I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years from friends about how they find taxes so confusing, but one story tops them all.
One year, a friend of mine called the day before tax day and explained frantically, “I’m filling in the tax forms I printed out, but I’m having trouble making the calculations work. It’s really complicated. Can you help me?” *Facepalm*
Since that day, I’ve vowed never to let anyone struggle so miserably with filing taxes. The truth is, for many, it’s usually a straightforward and easy, though rarely pleasant, process. The better news? There are some incredible tools out there to help you get the job done.
Here are several of the most handy tax tools for 2015.
Get an estimate with TaxCaster
If you’re like me, you’re probably eager to see how much of a refund will be coming your way this year.
My favorite tax tool is TaxCaster by TurboTax. Why do I like it? With just a few clicks, it can tell me roughly how much of a refund I can expect (which is what I’m hoping for) or how much I’ll owe in taxes.
It’s simple to use. Just answer a few questions, fill in your income, and add your deductions. Then you’ll be shown your expected refund or taxes owed.
I like to start with TaxCaster since it also helps me prepare for what’s ahead. If I’m curious about my taxes in January, but I might not file until March or April, I’ll either (1) use the motivation of getting my refund to get my taxes done earlier or (2) start saving up for the check I’ll have to send to the IRS.
Track tax forms and receipts with Shoeboxed and Evernote
For many of us, filing the tax return is the easy part compared to rounding up all the forms and paperwork needed. It’s annoying when you go to enter something in your tax software and you can’t put your hands on the information.
With this in mind, I like to get started with a tax checklist before I even begin filling out my tax return. H&R Block has a handy (but lengthy) checklist here. Some of the common items on the list that you’ll want to have ready are:
- Your social security number
- Last year’s tax return
- W-2 form from your employer or 1099-MISC if you’re an independent contractor
- Form 1098-T for tuition paid (if applicable)
- 1098-E for student loan interest paid (so you can get the student loan interest deduction)
- Other 1099 forms for interest earned, dividends, sale of stock, etc.
- Various deductible expense records, including mortgage interest, charitable donations, etc.
A few tools can make tracking all this stuff easier for both this year’s tax return and future returns.
Shoeboxed helps track physical receipts. Just take a photo of receipts with your phone, and they’ll be saved in your Shoeboxes account. Or if the receipt is in your Gmail inbox, you can simply forward the email to a special address, and it’ll be added to your account.
Evernote works great for this, too. While it’s not dedicated solely for tracking tax docs, you can easily upload them to Evernote using their app and tag them with “2014 taxes” or anything else that will make them easy to find later. And in case you get audited or want to access previous years’ returns, Evernote is a good place to store records.
Decide which tax-filing software is best for you
Nobody should be doing their taxes with paper and pencil these days. With so many tax-filing software options available, it’s much easier to get your return completed and filed faster at little or no expense.
A good option to start with is TurboTax. Their software includes cool features like the ability to import your W-2 directly from your employer (if you qualify). TurboTax walks you through the entire process, letting you know what information goes where. For example, TurboTax asks if you made any tax-deductible donations in 2014. You just key in the dollar amount, and TurboTax handles where that goes on your tax forms.
With TurboTax, you can also use SnapTax. SnapTax lets you take a photo of your W-2 form with your smartphone. SnapTax claims you can file your tax return from your phone in as little as 10 minutes. This option works for only really simple returns, so you’ll want to stick to traditional TurboTax or H&R Block if your return requires certain deductions.
Check IRS Free File
Before you pay for any tax-filing software options, it’s smart to see if you can get them for free. The IRS claims that “70 percent of Americans can do their taxes for free.” So, how do you find out if you’re one of them?
The IRS says if you make $60,000 or less, you may be able to file your federal return for free using brand-name software. This means the software offered by companies like TurboTax, H&R Block, and others. However, several of these options have cutoffs for adjusted gross income lower than $60,000.
Several states also have a Free File program for state tax returns. Be sure to check with your state’s website first to make sure the software you choose will be free for both your state and federal returns. You can start that search here.
In some cases, free file options won’t work for your tax-filing needs, regardless of your income. If you can’t meet the income limit for your desired no-cost software, you still have affordable options to choose from.
Track your refund with IRS2Go
The best part of the process is, of course, getting your return from the IRS. If you’re like me, you probably check your bank account every day to see if it’s been deposited yet. But if you’re ultra-curious, the IRS satisfies your curiosity with their IRS2Go app.
Tracking your refund is simple with this app. Just enter some information on the app page, and you’ll find out instantly if your refund is on its way.
If you’d prefer to check from your computer, the IRS Where’s My Refund? feature will also let you keep tabs on your cash.
Just remember—I’m not a tax professional. If you have any questions, I recommend you contact a tax preparation professional or accountant who can help you.
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