The fact we even have a season that we refer to as “tax season” is appalling in [what has generally been regarded as] a free society.  Even so, in the space between New Year’s Day and April 15, millions of businesses and individuals file their taxes for the year.  It’s also a “season” because it takes almost that long to get everything together that you need.

It seems every year I have to think through, “OK, what are the documents that I need for our return?”  At the very least, I thought I’d compile a list for my benefit for the future of what documents are needed to prepare for a personal return.  Maybe they’ll be helpful for you as well.  Here they are:

1) W-2 from your employer

This form will show how much your employer paid you and how much was withheld in taxes, broken out with Social Security, Medicare, and other tax categories listed.  This is the essential document to file a tax return if you are an employee in a business.

2) 1099-INT, -MISC, -C, -S, or -K

The essential purpose of a 1099 form is to report non-employment income of some type.  There are several types of 1099’s, but the most common you may see will be a 1099-INT and it comes from your bank.  It reports interest income earned in your bank accounts, however small that may be.  Yes, you have to pay taxes on that.

The other most common type is the 1099-MISC, which you’ll receive if you do contract work for a business and are paid over $600 in a year.  Settled/forgiven debt is considered income and reported on a 1099-C, while income from real estate transactions (other than your primary residence) will show up on a 1099-S.  Lastly, if you work with a credit card processor for your business or contract work, they will issue you a a 1099-K for everything they processed.

3) Charitable giving receipts

Any charitable giving that you want to report should have a receipt from the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.  They should have sent them out by now, or you may be able to print your report for 2014 via their online giving interface.  One organization we give to sends paper reports; another sends an email letting us know our giving statement can be printed.  Gather all of these up before filing your taxes.

4) Form 1098 for your mortgage lender

The Form 1098 from your bank or mortgage lender will indicate how much interest you paid on your mortgage, which is tax-deductible.  You must have this form to deduct that interest!  Lenders are required to send those out by the end of January.

5) Home office information and utility bills

If you work from home and have a dedicated work space that is ONLY used as a workspace (not a breakfast nook that is your office during the day, or a guest room that you sometimes do work in), you can deduct expenses related to that.  These expenses include furnishings for that space, as well as a proportional amount of the utilities and rent/mortgage.  If your office represents 8% of the space in your home and is dedicated space, you can deduct 8% of your bills from your home.  Do those calculations and pull up all your reports from utilities and the like.

6) Tuition bills

Instead of a deduction (which reduces the amount of income subject to taxation) a tax credit is a reduction in the amount of tax you pay, and can even increase your refund.  The most common of these tax credit opportunities is the education tax credit, from which you can gain a credit worth as much as $2500.  Your tuition statement, as well as applicable receipts for books and supplies (qualified expenses) should be sufficient.

While each tax situation is different, the documents above should help you get a jump on the things your accountant will ask for.  Get these together, and you won’t have to go to him or her completely empty-handed, wondering what you should have.

Have you already filed your taxes? What popped up this year that you didn’t expect?