The Free Advice Guide for Filing Your 2008 Tax Return

Yes, it’s that time of year for the pencil-and-erase routine. With the beginning of the New Year comes the certainty of tax time right around the corner. Here is a simple guide to help get you through this tax season.

Who needs to file: These are the 2008 filing requirements for most taxpayers-

If your filing status is… And at the end of 2008 you were…* Then file a return if your gross income was at least…**
Single Under 65 $8,950
65 or older $10,300
Married filing jointly*** Under 65 (both spouses) $17,900
65 or older (one spouse) $18,950
65 or older (both spouses) $20,000
Married filing separately Any age $3,500
Head of household Under 65 $11,500
65 or older $12,850
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child Under 65 $14,400
65 or older $15,450

* If you were born on January 1, 1944, you are considered to be age 65 for purposes of filing a 2008 tax return.

** Gross income is all income you received in money, property and services not otherwise exempt from tax, including income from sources outside of the United States. Gross income does not include social security benefits unless you were married, filing a separate return, and living with your spouse at any time in 2008, or one-half of your social security benefits plus your other gross income is more than $25,000 ($32,000 for joint filers).

*** If you did not live with your spouse in 2008 (or on the date he or she died), and your gross income was at least $3,500, then you will need to file return regardless of your age.

If you are a dependent, self-employed, a child under the age of 14, a resident of Puerto Rico, an alien (resident or non-resident), or a U.S. citizen living abroad, see Publication 17 for more information about filing requirements.

Where to find forms: You can find forms (1040, 1040A & 1040EZ) at your local public library, by downloading them from the IRS website (don’t forget to download the instructions too), by calling the IRS at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676), or by ordering the 2008 Tax Products CD (endorsed by the IRS) from National Technical Information Service (NTIS).

Baffled at which 1040 to file? See Page 8, Publication 17.

What documents will you need? If your income situation is simple and you will not have any deductions, you may be able to file using the EZ form, and you will not need many documents beyond your W-2’s or 1099 forms. If your situation is more complicated, you will need to track down your shoebox of W-2s, 1099s, investment account and bank statements, and other paper receipts before filling out your 1040. Click here for a list of documents you may need to properly complete your tax return.

Deadline for Filing: The deadline for filing your 2008 tax return (or Form 4868 for an automatic extension of time to file a return) is April 15, 2009.

Ways to file: Besides filing by mail, you can also file electronically using IRS e-file. If you wish to file by mail, send your completed form(s) in the envelope that came with your tax package (if you received one), or check the very last page of Form 1040 Instructions for the correct address. There are many benefits to filing electronically, including a significantly faster refund (about half the time as paper filers, and a direct deposit option), a completely paperless return, and the ability to file both state and federal returns at the same time. If you wish to file electronically, visit the e-file area of the IRS website.

How to get help preparing your return

Tax forms and schedules can be very complicated, especially if you want to take advantage of deductions, tax elections, exemptions and credits to limit your tax liability. That’s why so many taxpayers hire qualified tax professionals. Click here to find out which option would best suit your needs, how much you can expect to pay for tax preparation, and where to go for free help.

Keeping Copies

When you are ready to mail your return, make copies of everything you will be placing in the envelope, staple the copies together and file them away with your tax records. You should keep tax records for at least 3 years. Some people save all records for 7 years (the IRS has, in some cases, up to 6 years to audit you). You will need to keep certain records, like real estate and investment account records, indefinitely as you will need the records to compute losses and gains when the property is eventually sold or otherwise disposed of.

Learn more about federal income taxes and the law at FreeAdvice.com. To find a tax attorney, go to AttorneyPages.com.

To learn more about taxes and the IRS, see the following articles:

Filing Your 2008 Tax Return: Bring on the Paperwork
When You Have to File Your Tax Return Late
When You Need to Pay Your Income Tax Late
Do I Have to File if I Live Outside the U.S.?
What Will It Cost Me to Get My Money Early?