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Tax Preparation Checklist: Documents, Deductions, and More

For most Americans, the filing deadline for the 2023 tax year is April 15, 2024.¹ Since this deadline has a way of sneaking up on us, we put together a tax preparation checklist to cover tax fundamentals and make sure you have everything you need to file early and easily.

Complete tax preparation checklist

Here’s the deal – filing taxes can be tricky, and there are some consequences for those who miss the submission deadline. On the bright side, these issues are generally easy to avoid if you prepare. 

To get a jump-start on tax prep, use our comprehensive checklist to make sure you have the documents and information you need to file before tax time rolls around.

Someone reviews a tax prep checklist to make sure they have everything they need to file.

Download Tax Preparation Template

Personal information

The only personal information you’ll need to file is your Social Security (SSN) or Tax ID Number (TIN) and birth date. You don’t have to provide physical copies of your Social Security card and birth certificate, but it doesn’t hurt to have them on hand. 

Before filing, you should also know your:

  • Filing status: You must specify if you are single (not married), married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or a widow(er) with one or more dependent children.² 
  • Contact information: You will need to list your phone number, mailing address, and email address on your income tax return. 
  • Bank account information: You must include your bank account and routing numbers on your tax return. 

Information about dependents

If you have any dependents, you must prove that they are a qualifying child, sibling, parent, or other relative. To do this, you’ll need to have these documents ready to go:

  • Proof of citizenship: Your dependents must be a U.S. citizen or national, a Canadian resident, or a Mexican resident to qualify. 
  • Proof break the dependent tie: In split custody cases, the IRS uses tiebreaker rules to choose which parent or guardian gets to claim the child (or children) as a dependent.3,4 To prove that you have the right to claim a child, you will probably need to bring documents that outline your custody arrangement or child support agreement. 

Since only one guardian can claim a single dependent, you may come down to the IRS’ tie-breaker rules to decide who gets the tax break. Here are the guidelines for parents and guardians who aren’t married and filing jointly. 

Dependent tiebreaker rules

Relationship
  • If you are the child’s only legal parent, you get to claim them as a dependent. 
  • If no parent claims a child, a nonparent can claim them if their AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) is higher than any parent who may claim them. 
  • If none of the guardians are a legal parent, the person with the highest AGI gets to claim the child. 
Living arrangements
  • If the child lived with you the most during the tax year, you can claim them as a dependent. 
  • If the child lived with you and their other parent for the same amount of time, the person with the highest AGI gets to claim them. 

Source: Internal Revenue Service5

The remaining criteria will depend on the classification of the person you’re claiming as a dependent. 

Claiming a child as a dependent

Whether a child is a biological relative or adopted, you can claim them as a dependent as long as they meet all of the following criteria:6

  • Are younger than 19 at the end of the tax year and younger than you (and your spouse if filing jointly), or are younger than 24 at the end of the tax year and a full-time student or permanently disabled
  • Live with you for more than half of the year
  • Don’t provide more than half of their own financial support
  • Aren’t married and filing jointly

However, to claim a qualifying child as your dependent, you will need their SSN or ITIN, legal documents outlining your relationship, a birth certificate showing the child’s age, and proof that they lived with you for more than half of the tax year. 

Claiming an aging parent as a dependent

You can also claim an elderly relative if they meet all of the following criteria:7,8

  • Are legally related to you
  • Earn less than $4,300 annually (this rule doesn’t apply if they are disabled or working at a sheltered workshop)9
  • Don’t provide more than half of their own financial support

To claim an elderly parent as your dependent, you will need your birth certificate or a copy of legal guardianship papers, proof that your parent lives with you for at least half of the tax year, and proof that you provided more than half of your parent’s financial support.

Tax forms needed to file

Here’s a quick overview of the income documents you should receive depending on how you earned money during the last tax year, and which forms you need to file.10

Employment status or source of earningWill you receive a wage reporting form?Which form will you receive?Which form will you file?
EmployedYes. 
  • Your employer will send you Form W-2 if you are a regular, noncontractor employee. 
  • Form 1040 
UnemployedYes, if you received unemployment benefits. 
  • The government will send you Form 1099-G if you received government aid like unemployment benefits. 
  • Form 1040 
Self-employedYes.
  • Any company that hires you as a freelancer or independent contractor will send you Form 1099-NEC.
  • Any third-party payment platform you use to collect payment from customers will send you Form 1099-K
  • Form 1040 
  • Form 8829 (Expenses for Business Use of Your Home)
Rental incomeNo.
  • N/A
  • Schedule E (Supplemental Income and Loss)
Retirement incomeYes. 
  • Your financial institution will send you Form 1099-R if you withdrew funds from a retirement account like a pension or IRA. 
  • Form 1040
  • Form 5329 (Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans)
  • Form 8606 (Nondeductible IRAs)
Savings or investment accountsYes.
  • Your bank or brokerage firm will send you Form 1099-B if you sold stocks, bonds, or any other type of security. 
  • Your bank or brokerage firm will send you Form 1099-DIV if your accounts earned dividends. 
  • Your bank or brokerage firm will send you Form 1099-INT if your accounts earned interest. 
  • Form 1040
  • Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets)
  • Schedule B (Interest and ordinary dividends)
  • Schedule D (Capital gains and losses)
Forgiven debtYes. 
  • Your lender will send you Form 1099-C (Cancellation of Debt) if they forgave some or all of your debt since the IRS treats this amount as taxable income. 
  • Form 982 (Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness)
  • Form 1040
  • Schedule 1 (Additional Income and Adjustments to Income)
Property saleSometimes. 
  • Your brokerage firm will send Form 1099-B if you sell your securities. 
  • Your agent will send you Form 1099-S if you sell real estate. 
  • Form 1040
  • Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets)
  • Schedule D (Capital gains and losses)

The forms you receive and file may change based on your unique tax situation – consult a certified tax preparer if you need advice. 

Documents needed for income adjustments

An income adjustment (above-the-line deduction) refers to the deductions you can claim to reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) – the amount you earn before taxes. 

To qualify for an income adjustment, you’ll need to submit some proof – typically receipts, records, or statements to prove that you:

Receipts and documents for tax deductions and credits

If you don’t qualify to lower the amount you’re taxed, chances are you can still claim tax credits that reduce the amount you owe. You will need to take the itemized deduction to claim most of these write-offs, so hold onto your receipts until after you file. 

Here are some examples of available tax breaks that anyone who qualifies can claim: 

  • Deductions for homeowners: You can use Form 1098 to deduct mortgage interest, receipts to claim residential energy credits, and records showing that you used a home equity loan to make improvements to your property to claim the home equity loan interest deduction.11
  • Home office: Homeowners and renters who work from home can submit statements, receipts, and records to deduct insurance, utilities, maintenance, repairs, rent, and more.12
  • Charitable donations: You can submit receipts, bank statements, or written acknowledgments to prove that you donated to claim this deduction. 
  • Medical expenses: You can submit receipts for medical expenses, doctor’s visits, and medicine to claim this deduction. 
  • Child care: You can submit receipts or invoices to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit.13
  • Education: You can submit Form 1098-T to claim the American Opportunity Credit14 and the Lifetime Learning Credit.15
  • Educator expenses: You can submit receipts to claim the Educator Expense Deduction.16
  • Natural disasters: You can submit insurance claims, photographs, or damage reports to claim the Casualty Loss Deduction.17

This list is a starting point for understanding what tax breaks you can take advantage of, but it’s not an exhaustive list. Chat with a tax professional to see your options if you fit into these categories. 

Get your federal tax refund up to six days early* when you direct deposit with Chime and file directly with the IRS.

How to prepare and file early

When you’ve completed all these tax preparation steps, your last step is filing your taxes with the IRS and your state. The IRS will start accepting tax returns in January, and you have three basic choices when filing your taxes:

  1. Hire a professional
  2. Use tax filing software
  3. File on your own

Two illustrations accompany the answers to the question, “when can I expect my tax refund?”.

You can hire a tax professional 

If you have investments, properties, side hustles, or other considerations that complicate your tax situation, consider hiring a professional tax preparer to help you out. This option tends to be a little more expensive upfront and less convenient, but it can help ensure you get the most tax deductions and breaks. It also adds a layer of protection to help you avoid making mistakes. 

If you want to hire a tax professional to file your taxes, follow these steps: 

  • Search for a qualified tax preparer: Look for a certified professional with a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). You should also try to find someone with a good reputation by asking people you know and looking through reviews. 
  • Provide enough information: Once you choose a tax preparer, they will use the wage reporting and earning statements you provide along with any receipts you want to use for deductions to complete your income tax return. 
  • Review and sign the tax return: After the tax return is complete, carefully review it to make sure all of the information is correct. Then, the tax preparer can submit it for you. 

You can do your taxes with tax filing software  

If your tax situation is fairly straightforward and you want to get your refund as fast as possible, consider filing your taxes online. These options are generally low-cost, and many platforms ask questions to ensure you take all of your qualifying deductions

To do your taxes with an online filing service, follow these steps:

  • Select a service: Choose a reputable tax filing website.
  • Enter your information: Follow along with the automated tax assistant to enter details about your income, deductions, and tax credits.
  • Review and e-file: Review your tax return once you’ve answered the questions. If everything looks correct, allow the tax filing software to file your tax return with the IRS electronically. 

You can do your taxes by yourself

You can file a paper copy of your taxes and mail it to your state’s IRS mailing address. This tax filing method is the slowest, and you will likely have to wait up to a month for the IRS to process your tax return and send out or deposit your refund

If you still want to take this route, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  • Gather your documents: Collect the necessary documents to report your income based on how you earned the money. Also, grab any receipts or records you plan to use to claim tax breaks. 
  • Fill out IRS forms: The type of tax form you should complete depends on your individual financial situation and how you earned your income. Most people will fill out Form 1040, but if you’re not a traditional employee, check with a CPA or look on the IRS website to find the right form. 
  • Mail in your tax return: If you’re filing your taxes without the help of a tax preparation website, you’ll need to mail your income tax return18 to the IRS well before the submission deadline to avoid fees and other penalties. 
Get your federal tax refund up to six days early* when you direct deposit with Chime and file directly with the IRS.

Get your tax refund faster

It can take up to a month for the IRS to process your income tax return and send your refund. And when bills are due, it pays to get your money back early.19 To get your tax refund up to five days early, set up direct deposit to your Chime Checking Account and file directly with the IRS.

Read more about how to file your taxes online

FAQs about tax preparation

Still have questions about tax preparation? Here’s what you need to know. 

When is the tax filing deadline?

The tax filing deadline for individuals is Monday, April 15, 2024, unless you apply for an extension. If the IRS approves your extension, you’ll have until Oct. 15, 2024, to submit your tax return. 

Do I have to file taxes?

Most U.S. citizens and permanent residents have to file taxes. However, there are some valid reasons for not filing. For example, you might not have to file if you earn too little, are over 65 and fall below the higher earning threshold, or didn’t work over the past year.20,21,22

What are my options if I miss the tax filing deadline?

If you file late, the IRS will charge you a monthly penalty that equals 5% of your unpaid taxes. If you file more than 60 days late, the minimum fee is $450. Your options to avoid paying these penalties are:23

  • Pay the taxes in full to prevent interest from building
  • Dispute the penalty by calling the number on the top right of the notice you received from the IRS
  • Request a filing extension by April 18
  • Apply for a payment plan to reduce penalties

What is the difference between a tax deduction and tax credit?

Tax deductions reduce the amount you’re taxed, while tax credits reduce the amount of taxes you owe. 

How can I claim tax deductions and credits?

With the appropriate forms and documentation, you can claim tax deductions and credits by accurately reporting eligible expenses, income, and qualifying circumstances on your income tax return. You may need to file an itemized tax return to get the most tax breaks. 

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* Chime does not guarantee timing of refund. Six day refund estimate is based on 2022 tax year filing data. Refund timing estimates are dependent upon timing of complete tax return submission and other requirements.

1 Information from IRS’ Tax Calendars as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-dft/p509--dft.pdf

2 Information from IRS’ Understanding Taxes Teacher as of 11/8/23: https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/teacher/hows_mod05.jsp

3 Information from IRS’ TieBreaker Rules as of 11/8/23: https://apps.irs.gov/app/IPAR/resources/help/tbrk09.html

4,5 Information from IRS’ Overview of the Rules for Claiming a Dependent as of 11/8/2023: https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/overview_of_the_rules_for_claiming_4012.pdf

6 Information from IRS’ Overview of the Rules for Claiming a Dependent as of 11/8/2023: https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/overview_of_the_rules_for_claiming_4012.pdf

7 Information from IRS’ For Caregivers as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/faqs/irs-procedures/for-caregivers

8 Information from IRS’ Overview of the Rules for Claiming a Dependent as of 11/8/2023: https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/overview_of_the_rules_for_claiming_4012.pdf

9 Information from Cornell Law School’s Sheltered Workshop as of 11/8/23: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/sheltered_workshop

10 Information from Internal Revenue Service’s An official website of the United States government as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/

11 Information from Experian’s 8 Tax Breaks for Homeowners as of 11/8/23: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/tax-breaks-for-homeowners/

12 Information from IRS’ How small business owners can deduct their home office from their taxes as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/how-small-business-owners-can-deduct-their-home-office-from-their-taxes

13 Information from IRS’ Topic No. 602, Child and Dependent Care Credit as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc602

14 Information from IRS’ American Opportunity Tax Credit as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/aotc

15 Information from IRS’ Lifetime Learning Credit as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/llc

16 Information from IRS’ Topic No. 458, Educator Expense Deduction as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc458

17 Information from IRS’ Publication 547 (2022), Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/publications/p547

18 Information from IRS’ Where to File Paper Tax Returns With or Without a Payment as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/filing/where-to-file-paper-tax-returns-with-or-without-a-payment

19 Information from IRS’ Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/refunds/tax-season-refund-frequently-asked-questions

20 Information from IRS’ Do I Need to File a Tax Return? as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/help/ita/do-i-need-to-file-a-tax-return

21 Information from IRS’ Who needs to file a tax return as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/who-needs-to-file-a-tax-return

22 Information from IRS’ Who Should File a Tax Return as of 11/8/23: https://www.irs.gov/filing/individuals/who-should-file

23 Information from IRS’ Failure to File Penalty as of 11/8/23: https://irs.gov/payments/failure-to-file-penalty

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