Tax Preparation Checklist 2024: Documents You Need to Gather

By Rick Orford · January 21, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Tax Preparation Checklist 2024: Documents You Need to Gather

Yes, it’s that time again: Tax Day is approaching. When April 15th rolls around, it’s the deadline for filing returns.

This isn’t a task you want to leave for the night before. Taxes can be complex, and it can be time-consuming to complete even a fairly simple return. Preparing in advance can be an excellent idea.

Whether you plan to file on your own or use a professional tax service, you will need to gather a number of forms and documents. This checklist will help you pull together the information and paperwork you need to make the process go that much more smoothly.

The Basics of Filing Taxes

In a nutshell, filing your taxes tracks your income, taxes already deducted during the year, any credits and deductions, and other factors that impact what you may owe.

Below, you’ll learn about what documents you need to file your income taxes. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) collects taxes from any business or individual that receives a regular monthly income. There are currently seven different tax brackets that divide individuals according to their annual earnings.

Of course, each person’s situation is unique, with different earnings, deductions, and circumstances that may impact how much they owe (or get refunded, in some cases). You can explore an in-depth guide to the 2024 tax season for more details, but now, consider the information you’ll need to collect before you can finalize your return.

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Personal Information

First things first on your tax prep checklist: Follow this list of tax documents to gather and information to note:

•   Your Social Security or tax ID number

•   If married, you’ll need your spouse’s Social Security or tax ID number and birthdate

•   Any identity protection PINs issued to you or family members by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)

•   Your bank account number and routing number for the deposit of any refund you may be due or payment you owe, it you choose to pay that way

•   Any foreign residency and reporting details, if that applies to you.

Dependents’ Information

If you have dependents, you’ll want to gather similar details about them, as above. The IRS defines a dependent as a qualifying child (who is either under age 19 or under age 24 if they’re a full-time student), or could be any age if considered to be permanently disabled. A qualifying relative can be a relative (say, a sibling or parent) who, if they have income, does not provide more than half of their own annual support. (One note: A spouse cannot be claimed as a dependent.)

In addition to dates of birth and Social Security or tax ID numbers, you will need records of child care expenses (and providers’ tax ID numbers), if applicable; details of earnings of dependents; and potentially form 8332 relating to custodial agreements for children, as needed. (You’ll learn a bit more about possible family-related tax deductions and credits below.)

Sources of Income

Next on the tax preparation checklist is to gather paperwork about your sources of income. Typically, this means W-2 and/or 1099 tax forms.

•   For full-time employees, this will often be a W-2 form.

•   For those who are self-employed (such as freelance and contract workers), 1099s will be needed. These are forms that document payment of funds from different entities.

•   If, say, you earn money selling items on Etsy or a similar marketplace, you might receive a 1099-K form if your earnings cross a certain threshold.

•   If you are unemployed, you will want to be sure you have a form 1099-G reflecting this.

•   If you have earned interest on your money or dividends on investments, sold investments, then you will want to collect your 1099 forms that track these amounts.

•   You will also need to pull together any 1099 forms that document Social Security or income from a pension, IRA, or annuity.

•   Other forms of income will need to be accounted for as well, including jury duty, prizes, awards, gambling winnings, trust income, passive income (such as earnings on a rental property you own), and royalties, among others.

Types of Deductions

Now that you’ve covered what you earn on the tax document checklist, it’s important to track possible deductions, which can lower your tax burden. Essentially, when you take a deduction, you lower the amount of income that will be taxed.

Many of these deductions will involve 1098 documents. Here are some of the more common tax deductions possible:

•   Medical Expenses: You may be able to deduct some medical expenses, so it’s wise to gather records of how much you paid. If your medical bills exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income, these can be deducted.

•   Retirement and Investment Account Contributions: Traditional IRA contributions are seen as deductible, as well as some 401(k) contributions, and other contributions, up to certain limits.

•   Mortgage & Property Taxes: Interest on your mortgage, property and real estate taxes may be deductible so gather your paperwork related to homeownership.

•   Charitable Donations: Some types of donations made by individuals and businesses can be deducted.

•   Motor Vehicles: Individuals who use a car strictly for business purposes may be able to take a deduction.

•   Child Care Costs: These may be deductible, so gather receipts and tax ID numbers from providers.

•   Educational Expenses: Student loan interest and other expenses related to your education can be tax-deductible. Depending on the type of loan taken out, some student loans may be tax deductible.

•   Home Office Costs: You can typically claim some of the price you pay for having a home office, as well as other qualifying business expenses.

•   State, Local, and Sales Taxes: Other than wage withholding, you may be able to deduct taxes paid on goods, services, and income on a state or local level.

Tax Credits

Before you wrap up your tax prep checklist, you’ll want to collect any paperwork that could help you snag tax credits. As for deductions vs. tax credits, while a deduction lowers your taxable income, a credit gives you a dollar-for-dollar deduction in your tax liability. So if you can claim a $2,500 credit, that means your taxes owed are reduced by $2,500.

Here, some credits that can help you save on your taxes:

Student Credits

You may want to look into the following:

•   American Opportunity Tax Credit: Up to $2,500 credit for qualifying educational expenses for eligible students during the first four years of higher education

•   Lifetime Learning Credit: Up to $2,000 per year for qualifying tuition and expenses for eligible students

Family and Dependent Credits

Consider whether you are eligible for:

•   Child Tax Credit: Up to $2,000 for a qualifying child under age 17

•   Child and Dependent Care Credit: You may be able to get back some of your expenses towards child or dependent care.

•   Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): For low- to middle-income workers, the EITC could be from $600 to $7,430, depending on qualifying factors.

•   Adoption Credit: If an adoption was finalized in 2023, the adoptive parents may be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $15,950.

Homeowner Credits

•   Home Energy Tax Credits: You might be able to take a credit of up to 30% on the costs of clean, renewable energy systems/equipment for your home, up to a limit.

Missed Deadline Penalties

Here’s another reason to prioritize this tax preparation checklist: If you don’t have your documents gathered and your return prepared, you might file late…or not be filing at all.

There are various penalties involved when you do not file any tax returns or miss the deadline. The IRS has procedures and regulations around missing any deadlines, and how penalties can impact future tax filings.

These penalties include:

1.   A 5% levy on taxes owed per month for every month missed after the April 15th deadline for missing the tax deadline.

2.   After the 60 days late mark, a minimum penalty kicks in of $485 or 100% of the taxes owed, whichever is less.

3.   A 0.5% levy on any taxes owed, if you fail to pay, even if you’ve filed before the initial deadline.

4.   A 25% penalty levy regulated by the IRS due to overdue taxes and filing.

Interest also accrues on unpaid taxes, adding to the cost. Since all of this can cost you money and create considerable stress, it’s a good idea to get a headstart to you have your tax prep documents together and can file on time.

The Takeaway

Filing taxes can be complicated and require gathering various forms and figures. It’s wise to start early and collect information related to your income, dependents, and possible deductions and credits.

Additionally, being prepared in advance to receive any refunds or make any potential subsequent tax payments is important. It can be wise to have a checking and savings account that earns you interest while making it simple to track your cash.

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