How to Prepare Your Taxes & File Your Tax Return – (Possibly for Free!)

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How to Prepare Your Taxes & File Your Tax Return – (Possibly for Free!)
Filing your tax return can be complicated. We show you how to prepare your taxes & file your tax return, including which tax forms & documents you need to file your taxes, forms needed for tax credits & tax deductions, and how to even find last minute tax deductions. Best part - you may be able to file your taxes free!

Filing your taxes isn’t always fun. But it doesn’t have to be a complicated process or take a long time. If your situation is fairly basic, you can file your taxes in less than half an hour. Of course, the more complicated your situation, the more time it may take and you may even wish to hire a tax professional to assist you.

Regardless of how complicated your situation is, you can make the process faster and easier by using a checklist to gather your paperwork and other records. It’s a good idea to make sure you have everything you need before starting your tax return. This includes your required tax paperwork, account numbers if requesting an electronic refund, and the tax software program to make the job easier.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to prepare your taxes, and possibly even find some last-minute tax deductions.

Gather Your Personal Information and Tax Forms

This is the most important step for preparing your taxes. Spending some time to gather the required paperwork before you start will prevent you from starting and stopping your return while you go look for documents you may have forgotten about. That’s why I recommend having a tax prep checklist before you start your tax return.

Over the years I’ve created my own checklist for personal use, based on my previous tax returns. Here is an overview of my tax organization system. Feel free to use my system, or create your own if you don’t already have one. Some tax software companies also offer a tax preparation checklist that you can download from their site. So be sure to look for those if you need other ideas.

Which Information and Tax Forms Do You Need?

You will need to gather all the personal information for yourself and each of the dependents who will be on your tax return (if applicable). Make sure you have the full name, birth date, and Social Security Number for each person on your tax return. You will also need records of your income and tax deductions and a copy of last year’s tax return if you have it handy. Note: Most tax software companies, such as H&R Block and TurboTax make it easy to import a pdf copy of last year’s tax return.

Some military members may have special tax considerations. Be sure to check out these military tax tips to help you understand some situations you may face when you file your taxes, and which forms you may need.

The following are some examples of the tax forms or information you may need. Just use this as a starting point because each situation is unique.

Common Tax Forms for Income (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • W-2 (from your employer)
  • Savings and Investments: Form 1099-INT, 1099-DIV, 1099-B, 1099-S, 1099-SA, etc.
  • Retirement Income – Form 1099-R, 1099-SSA, etc.
  • Self-employment income – 1099-MISC or 1099-NEC
  • Copies of any other 1099s you may have received
  • Records of any other income you received, as well as associated expenses, if applicable.

Common Tax Deductions and Related Forms (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Charitable contributions
  • Mortgage interest – Form 1098
  • Other Form 1098s
  • Proof of Health Insurance Form 1095-A, or 1095-B and/or 1095-C
  • Child care expenses
  • Any other expenses that may be tax-deductible
  • Any applicable military

When are tax forms available? Most tax forms are sent out by the middle or end of January. Some tax forms are released later in the tax season. So watch your mailbox and/or your online accounts for more information. Most military tax forms are released by the end of January.

Determine How You Will Prepare Your Taxes

You generally have three options for filing your taxes: paper, tax preparation service, or tax prep software.

My preferred method is filing electronically, either with a tax preparation software program, or a professional tax preparation service. But the latter is only necessary for very complicated situations.

The vast majority of tax returns can be filed with a commercial tax software program such as H&R Block Online. And if you have a basic tax return, you may be able to file free with H&R Block.

Filing a paper tax return is my least favorite method. Paper returns take longer to process, are more prone to errors (either on the preparation side, or when being processed by the IRS), and you are more liable to miss money-saving tax deductions. Finally, the longer it takes to process your return, the longer it takes to process your refund if you have one coming your way.

Most tax software programs are faster and easier to use and will often help you find ways to save even more money than if you do your taxes by hand. For most situations, using tax preparation software is the easiest and most cost-effective method.

Find out if you can file your tax return for free with H&R Block.

Look for Last-Minute Tax Savings

You may be able to save on your taxes up to the time you file your return. Make sure you have taken advantage of all last-minute savings, such as contributing to a tax-deductible IRA, or a self-employed retirement account if you are eligible.

Most commercial tax software will also help you find tax deductions you may not have even know you were eligible to receive.

For example, The IRS has reported that approximately 20% of people who are eligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) fail to claim it. That’s 1 in 5 people who are missing out on a very big tax credit that can help them save big on their tax return.

Using a tax software program such as H&R Block Online will help you identify these potential tax savings and claim them if you are eligible.

File Your Tax Return

Once you have all your paperwork together and you’ve decided how you will file your taxes, it’s time to get started.

Grab your paperwork, set aside some time, and get started. Tax software has come a long way in the last few years. The software is powerful enough and easy enough to use that you can even file your tax return from your smartphone or tablet.

Of course, H&R Block still offers an online version and a version you can download for either Windows or Mac. You can easily switch back and forth between the mobile app and desktop version or online app if you prefer to work on a larger screen.

H&R Block makes it easy to import documents such as your W-2. With H&R Block Snap-a-Pic, you can take a picture of your W-2 with your phone and import it to your tax return.

The H&R Block software walks you through an interview process about your income, expenses, and financial situation. This information is used to help find potential tax deductions. The entire tax return process is streamlined and easy. And it’s guaranteed to be 100% accurate and get you the maximum refund.

After You File Your Taxes

Your job is almost over. Once you file your taxes, you have to either send the government a check for the amount you owe them or await your tax refund (the latter is better, of course!).

I will also give you one more recommendation: keep a file of your tax-related documents up to date throughout the year. I simply keep a large manila envelope in my desk drawer and I place all relevant documents, forms, and receipts in there throughout the year (right after I scan them into a file folder organized by tax year).

This ensures you keep all your tax documents up to date throughout the year. It will save you a lot of time when it comes time to file your taxes next year. Here is an overview of my tax organization system.

What Are you Waiting for? Let’s Get Started!

Filing your tax return doesn’t have to be difficult. Get started with this Tax Prep Checklist, gather your documents, and then start with your return.

Using a tax prep software program like H&R Block will guide you through a step-by-step interview process to make sure you don’t miss any potential sources of income, tax deductions, or other relevant information.

To top it off, H&R Block has audit protection and guarantees 100% accuracy, and guarantees a maximum refund. So you can rest easy knowing your tax return is as good as it’s going to get. And if you qualify for H&R Block*, your tax return may be free to file.

You can’t beat free!

*H&R Block Online offers several tax return plans, including the following:

  • H&R Block Free Online – free
  • Deluxe Online Tax Filing – starting at $39.99 (Best for Homeowners and Deductions)
  • Premium – $55.99
  • Self-Employed Online Tax Filing – starting at $87.99 (Best for Investors and Rental Property Owners)

The best plan for your needs will depend on your overall tax situation. Compare all H&R Block plans to learn more!

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. TheTruth says

    Military OneSource actually uses H&R Block online software, not Turbotax. But this post is misleading. Why would you even advertise that people pay for H&R Block so you can get a paycheck from them when it is completely free for all military via MilitaryOneSource?!?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello TheTruth, Yes, military members can use H&R Block through MilitaryOneSource. However, that only applies to military members who are currently serving (active duty, Guard, and Reserves). The MilitaryOneSource service is not available to military veterans or retirees. Also, many taxpayers in the low to middle income ranges will qualify for free tax preparation with the H&R Block More Zero program, which is free. For those who do not qualify for a free tax preparation service, H&R Block offers a variety of solutions that will meet most needs at an affordable price point.

      Why do we advertise for H&R Block – simply put – they deliver. If the military trusts it enough to offer it to it’s members through MilitaryOneSource, then we can trust it enough to offer it to our audience, which includes current military members, as well as veterans, retirees, and their families.

  2. David L says

    Military One Source gives access (via CAC) to TurboTax Premier for free! Premier includes rental properties and investments. That beats out H&R Block AND USAA!

    • Ryan Guina says

      David, MilitaryOneSource directed me to H&R Block when I logged into my MilOneSource account today, not TurboTax. Military members who are currently serving can visit MilitaryOneSource to complete their taxes for free. Those who are no longer serving will not have that option. Many low and middle income taxpayers may qualify for H&R Block More Zero, which is a free way to file taxes. It will offer enough services for the majority of taxpayers, though those with higher income or a more complex tax situation may need to opt for a different plan.

      According to the H&R Block website:

      H&R Block More Zero allows 87 million (6 in 10) to file free online federal (1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 with Schedule A) and state returns. Taxpayers who could use H&R Block More Zero include:

      • 1040EZ filers who generally file single or married filing jointly and have no dependents
      • 1040A filers who may have student loan interest, educator expenses or even a tuition and fees deduction
      • 1040 Schedule A filers who itemize because of mortgage payments, child care expenses, charitable donations or medical expenses.

      That’s pretty solid in my book!

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