How to File Your Federal Taxes

Learn the steps to complete your federal income tax return, find out tax filing deadlines, apply for an extension, and get IRS mailing addresses.

File a Federal Income Tax Return

The government collects taxes to pay its bills and provide public goods and services. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the nation’s tax collection agency.

The taxes you owe to the government are generally paid through withholding (money taken out of your paycheck), estimated tax payments, and payments made when you file your taxes each year.  

You may not have to file a federal income tax return if your income is below a certain amount. However, you must file a tax return to claim a refundable tax credit or a refund on income tax withheld. 

Find out if you have to file a tax return.

Follow these steps to file a tax return:

  1. Gather your tax forms and paperwork - Make sure you have all the IRS forms you need to file. This includes your W-2 form and other income statements. You may also need proof of health insurance coverage to complete your return. Gather all your supporting documents, such as earning statements, interest statements, and receipts for charitable donations. Keep organized records to make the process easier and help avoid issues with your return.  
  2. Determine your filing status - Your marital status and how much your household members pay toward keeping up a home can help you figure out your correct filing status. 
  3. See if you qualify for free tax return preparation - The IRS offers free tax help to low-income individuals, military servicemembers and their families, people with disabilities, seniors, or taxpayers with limited English.
  4. Choose the simplest form for your tax situation -  Determine the correct form to use to file your return. If you file your return using IRS e-file, the system will automatically decide which form you need.
  5. Calculate your taxes and credits - Add up your sources of income, such as your salary, interest earned from your banking or investment accounts, and your pension or retirement-related accounts. Check to see if you are eligible for credits and deductions, including charitable contributions, education, and child care expenses.
  6. Claim your dependents and exemptions - It's important to understand the rules on claiming dependents (a qualifying child or relative) and exemptions (deductions from your and your dependents' taxable income).
  7. Determine if you need to pay quarterly estimated taxes - Find out if you need to pay taxes on income that is not subject to withholding, such as self-employment, interest, and dividends. 
  8. File your taxes online or mail your paper tax return - Choose the filing method that best suits your needs: online,  a mailed paper return, or through a tax professional. 

Tax Payment Information

You can pay your federal taxes in one of several ways: direct pay, debit or credit card, electronic federal tax payment system, or check or money order. Find out how to make a tax payment.

Tax Refund Information

If you are expecting a refund and want to check its status, the IRS recommends using its online Where's My Refund tool or the mobile app, IRS2Go. These systems are updated once every 24 hours and are the fastest, easiest ways to track your refund.

You can also contact the IRS to check on the status of your refund. Wait times to speak with a representative can be long. But you can avoid the wait by using the automated phone system. Follow the message prompts when you call.

Refunds are generally issued within 21 days of when you electronically filed your tax return or 42 days of when you filed paper returns.

You can choose to receive your tax refund by direct deposit, U.S. Series I Savings Bonds, or paper check.

Tax Filing when Living Abroad

U.S. citizens or resident aliens (Green Card holders) living abroad must pay U.S. income tax on their worldwide income. The rules for filing tax returns, paying estimated taxes, or estate taxes are generally the same whether you are in the U.S. or abroad. Keep in mind that some of the steps you take, including where and when to file, may be different.  

Learn more about filing taxes when living abroad.

Tax Filing Information for Nonresidents in the U.S.

If you are not a permanent resident, you will need to follow special rules to complete your return. Foreign nationals who cannot get a Social Security number (SSN) need to apply for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). This identification number is used for returns, statements, and other tax-related documents.

Learn how to apply for ITINs and other types of taxpayer identification numbers.

Learn the steps to file taxes in the U.S. if you are a nonresident.

Contacting the IRS

For the fastest information, the IRS recommends finding answers to your questions online. You can also call the IRS. This option works best for less complex questions. Keep in mind that wait times to speak with a representative may be long.

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Tax Filing Deadlines

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began accepting and processing federal tax returns for tax year 2017 on January 29, 2018. The deadline to file federal taxes was April 18, 2018, unless you filed for an extension.

Federal and state taxes usually have the same filing deadlines. Find out the tax filing due dates in your state. If you do not file and pay your taxes on time, you will be charged interest and a late payment penalty. For taxpayers due a refund, there is no penalty for filing a late return.

Tax Filing and Payment Help

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Extension to File Your Tax Return

If you are unable to file your federal income tax return by the due date, you may be able to get an extension from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This does not grant you more time to pay your taxes.

You may be able to get an automatic six-month extension to file your return. To do so, you must file IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return by the due date for filing your calendar year return (usually April 15) or fiscal year return. For a Spanish version of this form, download IRS Form 4868sp.

Special rules may apply if you are:

  • Living outside the United States
  • Out of the country when your six-month extension expires
  • Living in a combat zone or a qualified hazardous area

Get tax filing information, including guidelines on extensions of time to file.

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Filing Tax Returns When Living Abroad

Who Files

  • U.S. citizens or resident aliens (Green Card holders) living abroad must pay U.S. income tax on their worldwide income.
  • The rules for filing tax returns, paying estimated taxes, or estate taxes are generally the same whether you are in the U.S. or abroad. Get information for taxpayers living abroad.

How to File

When to File

Where to File

  • If you’re living outside the U.S., you can mail your return or use e-file.
  • Learn where to mail your return if you are expecting a refund or if you owe money to the IRS.

Where to Get Tax Preparation Help While Living Abroad

Taxpayer service is no longer available at foreign posts of duty. Instead, use the International Taxpayer Service Call Center.

Find More Resources for Taxpayers Living Abroad

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1099 Income Statements

Businesses and government agencies use Form 1099 to report various types of income other than wages, salaries, and tips to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

Every business or agency must:

  • Complete a Form 1099 for each transaction.
  • Retain a copy for its records.
  • Send a copy to you and to the IRS. You should have received your copy by early February (or mid-February for Form 1099-B).

You must include this income on your federal tax return.

Incorrect or Missing Form 1099

If you do not agree with the information contained in your Form 1099, contact the business or federal agency that issued it.

If you did not receive your Form 1099, contact the business or federal agency that should have issued it. 

Contact the IRS

If you requested Form 1099 from a business or agency and did not receive it, contact the IRS. Wait times to speak with a representative may be long.

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Get Tax Forms and Publications

Federal Tax Forms

You can get free tax forms and publications you need directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by downloading them from IRS.gov or ordering by phone at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). You can also get them from locations in your community, such as taxpayer assistance centers and libraries.

Many forms and publications are available in multiple years and file formats, including Section 508 accessible PDFs and Braille or text formats.

State Tax Forms

Download your state's tax forms and instructions for free.

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Get Your W-2 Before Tax Time

The Wage and Tax Statement, known as a W-2 form, is an important document to have at tax time. This form shows the income you earned for the year and the taxes withheld from those earnings. If you have had several jobs over the year, you may have several W-2 forms to file your tax return. Employers must send you your W-2 by January 31 for the earnings from the previous calendar year of work.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers advice on what to do if you were an employee and haven't received your W-2 by January 31 or if the information is incorrect. Employers that have questions about filing W-2 forms for employees can check these resources on where, when, and how to file from the IRS.

For more information, contact the IRS. Wait times to speak with a representative may be long.

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IRS Mailing Addresses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides mailing addresses for tax returns, non-return forms, applications, and payments. The correct mailing address to use depends on the purpose of contact and the region of the country you are in:

You can also check a form's corresponding instructions for a mailing address.

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Nonresidents Filing Tax Returns in the U.S.

Who Files 

You will need to file a U.S. tax return depending on your:

Review this list of five situations to learn more about who must file.  

How to File

Find More Resources

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Last Updated: September 14, 2018