Tax Prep Checklist: Preparing for Tax Day

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  • Post last modified:February 4, 2021

With every new year comes a new obligation to file tax returns.

While you can file your federal income tax return until April 15th, the official U.S. Tax Day, filing your tax return ahead of the deadline grants you convenience and peace of mind and protects you from preventable fines.

To file your tax return, you need to gather your tax-related information and paperwork. This article presents a tax preparation checklist that you can utilize; however, not all the categories and items may apply to you, as every taxpayer’s situation is different. Go through the checklist and only pick the ones applicable to you.

Personal information

The IRS needs your personal information to identify who is filing the tax return.

In general, you need the following:

  • Your name, as it appears in your tax documents
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your bank account number and routing number, if you have a refund and the IRS is depositing your refund directly into your account

If you have a spouse or dependents, you will also need their personal information.


Your tax return should reflect all of the income you received during the previous tax year; thus, it is important to document every income.

Gather all the documents that report the money you earned.

If you are an employee and your employer withheld taxes from your paychecks, you will receive Form W-2 from your employer by January 31st. 

  • 1099 forms

There are multiple 1099 forms, depending on the type of income you received. For example, Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, reports the income you have received as an independent contractor or freelancer. If a bank or other entity paid you interest, Form 1099-INT, Interest Income, will reflect that interest income you have earned. For the sale of a property, Form 1099-S, Proceeds from Real Estate Transactions, reports the income you have earned. Use all the 1099 forms you have to prepare your income tax return.

  • Other sources of income

Sources of income that may require additional documentation:

  • Foreign earned income
  • Taxable alimony received
  • Rental property  income
  • Unemployment income
  • Income from a canceled debt
  • Income received from jury duty
  • Social Security benefits
  • Gambling or lottery winnings
  • Prizes

If you have a spouse, you will also need his or her income information.

Deductions and tax credits

Deductions and tax credits can lower your tax burden by reducing your total income; a lower taxable income means a lower tax bill. For example, if you have a $1,000 tax deduction, since it would be subtracted from your earnings, it would not be subject to taxation. For a child and dependent care tax credit, you can receive a credit for up to 35% of dependent care costs, which is up to $3,000.

When you claim deductions and credits, make sure you have proper documentation to protect you if ever the IRS audits you. 

Some of the most common deductions and tax credits include the following:

  • Retirement account contributions, such as Individual Retirement Account (IRA) contributions
  • Medical Savings Account (MSA) contributions
  • Self-employed health insurance premium payments
  • Educational expenses, such as deductions for tuition and fees paid and interest paid on a student loan
  • Educator expenses for qualified teachers and educators
  • Child and dependent care costs
  • Adoption costs
  • Tuition expenses for dependent children (Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement)
  • Charitable donations
  • Investment interest expense
  • Home mortgage interest (Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement)
  • State and local tax deductions
  • Theft losses and casualty costs


If you have income taxes withheld from your paychecks to settle tax liabilities, the amount you paid will reflect in your Form W-2. Moreover, if you have paid other taxes, properly documenting them can keep you from overpaying.

Other taxes you may have paid throughout the year may include the following:

  • Real estate taxes
  • Personal property taxes
  • Estimated tax payments, if self-employed
  • State and local income taxes
  • Taxes withheld from retirement plan distributions (Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc.)

Tips on preparing your income tax return:

Gather and organize your documents

Keeping track of all our financial documents might be difficult and tedious at first; however, being disorganized could result in losing out on important deductions and credits. Even before the tax filing season begins, it is beneficial to keep all your documents in one place, where you can easily store and retrieve important paperwork. Moreover, preparing your income tax return requires you to organize all your records and documents, so when your return is selected for an audit by the IRS, you will have all the documentation you need.

Fill out forms online

As you prepare your income tax return document, it is wise and advantageous to utilize an online PDF editor tool where you can fill out and sign tax forms electronically. A web-based form-filler tool enables you to complete documents faster and more accurately compared to printing and answering forms manually.

File early

You file your taxes yearly, so why procrastinate? Do not stress over filing your tax returns by filing early — get the task out of the way as soon as possible! When you file your tax return ahead of the April deadline, you eliminate unnecessary stress and give yourself time to relax. Moreover, when you face an income tax bill instead of a refund, filing early gives you more time to make a plan on how you can settle your dues.

Determine then decide if you need to file for an extension

If you will not be able to finish all tax filing-related tasks before April 15, you can file for an extension using Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. By filing Form 4868, once the IRS grants your request, you will have until October 15 to file a return. Take note, that filing for an extension does not extend your time to pay taxes. If you do not pay the amount due by April 15 you will incur interest and the IRS may charge you penalties.