How to File Your Federal Taxes

Federal tax returns are due April 17, 2018. Learn the steps to file, get an extension, and more.

Infographic: Key Tax Tips

Find out the important factors to consider when doing your taxes.

This infographic explains the important factors to consider when doing your taxes.

This infographic explains the important factors to consider when doing your taxes. View a larger version of the infographic.

  • Things to consider when filing your tax return include credits and deductions, filing options, sources of income, and more.

    Getting married, buying a house, or other life events can affect your taxes. Learn the keys to doing your taxes:

    Calculator with a Receipt Roll 

    • Receipt roll message: Stay on the alert for the latest scams and fraud, including tax ID theft, phishing emails, and dishonest tax professionals!
    • Calculator screen message: 1040.
    • Parentheses symbol (): Gather your tax forms and paperwork: 
      • W-2s and 1099 income, 1095-A for health insurance
      • Interest statements, receipts, mileage
    • Subtraction sign (-): Check for deductions and credits:
      • Charitable contributions, education and child care expenses
      • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
    • Addition sign (+): Add up your sources of income:
      • Salary, interest, investments, and retirement accounts
    • Division sign (÷): If you owe money, you may be able to divide the payments over time with an IRS installment agreement.
    • Help symbol (?): Get help from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
    • Equal sign (=): Choose how to file your taxes:
      • Online (IRS Free File, paid software, or e-file provider)
      • Mailed paper return
      • Tax professional
    • Addition/subtraction sign (+/-): Do you owe money or get a refund?

    Get more tax information at https://www.usa.gov/features/five-tips-for-a-smooth-tax-season

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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 towards 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, persons with disabilities, the elderly, 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. Figure 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 you 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

There are several ways to pay your federal taxes: 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.

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 is April 17, 2018, unless you file 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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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 receive 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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Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs)

A Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) is an identification number that you need to include on returns, statements, and other tax-related documents.

There are many types of TINs for a variety of tax situations:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) issues a SSN and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues all other TINs.

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Last Updated: February 12, 2018