How to Do your Taxes for the First Time

This one goes out to all of you “No-Longer-a-Dependent” young adults out there - It’s time to put on your adulting pants and join the rest of us drones. That’s right it’s Tax time and there is no getting out of this chore.  And that’s not just me talking, that comes from the Internal Revenue Service.  The old saying goes, “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.” And. That. Is. Facts!

Here's why we pay taxes

Here’s the “Why” in case you're interested, but if not, please feel free to skip ahead.  According to the IRS, “The government provides public goods and services for the community as a whole. To pay its bills, the government needs revenue or a source of income. The money that the federal government uses to pay its bills comes mostly from taxes" 

Now, as to what those “goods and services” are and how well your money is being spent is another discussion you can have with your angry Uncle at the next family get-together. 

Here’s some good news

  • You can file your taxes online for free if you make less than $64,000.
  • The I.R.S. website has gotten a lot better at answering your questions. 
  • You might get a refund depending on your financial situation.

Here's how to do it

STEP 1Get it together!  Gather up all the appropriate documents you will need.  Here are the most common documents you will need.

STEP 2Do your taxes! There are all sorts of online programs to help you with your tax returns. The IRS has a webpage with links that lays out different ways you can file online for free. File your taxes for free -  IRS-approved options

These services will ask you questions and guide you through your tax return based on your answers. Some of the services offer different products like live help or audit protection and those might be something you find useful, but I would suggest trying the free versions (if you made less than $64,000) that are approved by the IRS first.  You can always change to a different service or even contact a tax professional before you file if you aren’t 100% confident in the results. 

Here are some parting thoughts

I’ve been filing my own taxes for a long time now and I’m still learning new things. I am by no means an expert, but I am the most invested party in my own financial situation. Let me explain. My Dad gave me some advice many years ago that was hard to hear, but it has served me well, so here it is: 

“No one will ever care more about your financial situation than you – not an accountant you pay, not a service you hire, not even your family or friends.”

I know this sounds a little extreme, but it makes sense if you think about it.  And the takeaway, at least what it has meant to me, is that knowledge is power and doing the work to understand my unique financial situation will only benefit me in the long run.

I hope that helps.  I promise you that doing your own taxes isn’t as daunting as it seems and there is a world of help available. The library is a great place to find supplemental information and get the answers to any question you might have. 

Just remember: not paying your taxes is not really an option, but you do have the choice to make it a positive experience rather than a negative one.

If you are not a first-timer and stumbled on this page looking for more advanced tax resources, here are a few that are available from HCPL.

Tax Services page - information about free tax preparation assistance offered by HCPL community partners BakerRipley and AARP Tax Aide.

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