The Free Advice Guide for Filing Your 2018 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.

Federal form 1040 (downloads in pdf format) was completely redesigned in 2018 and replaces Form 1040A (the short form) and 1040EZ (for filers with no dependents). In other words, all filers will be using a single Form 1040. Many of the items previously reported on the basic Form 1040 -- such as, adjustments to income, nonrefundable/refundable credits, calculation of the tax, other taxes-- were moved to one of six new numbered schedules (the instructions to Form 1040 include the instructions for the new schedules 1-6). The lettered schedules -- Schedule A, Schedule B, Schedule C, Schedule F--still exist. 

Who needs to file: These are the 2018 filing requirements for most taxpayers-

If your filing status is… And at the end of 2018 you were…* Then file a return if your gross income was at least…**
Single Under 65 $12,000
65 or older $13,600
Married filing jointly*** Under 65 (both spouses) $24,000
65 or older (one spouse) $25,300
65 or older (both spouses) $26,600
Married filing separately Any age $5
Head of household Under 65 $18,000
65 or older $19,600
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child Under 65 $24,000
65 or older $25,300

* If you were born on January 1, 1954, you are considered to be age 65 for purposes of filing a 2018 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 or from the sale of your main home (even if you can exclude part or all of it). Don’t include any social security benefits unless (a) you are married filing a separate return and you lived with your spouse at any time in 2018 or (b) one-half of your social security benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest is more than $25,000 ($32,000 if married filing jointly). If (a) or (b) applies, see the instructions for lines 5a and 5b to figure the taxable part of social security benefits you must include in gross income. Gross income includes gains, but not losses, reported on Form 8949 or Schedule D. Gross income from a business means, for example, the amount on Schedule C, line 7, or Schedule F, line 9. But, in figuring gross income, don’t reduce your income by any losses, including any loss on Schedule C, line 7, or Schedule F, line 9.

*** If you did not live with your spouse in 2018 (or on the date he or she died), and your gross income was at least $5, 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 federal tax forms at your local public library, post offices, copy centers, federal offices, or by downloading them from the IRS website (don’t forget to download the instructions too), or by calling the IRS at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

What documents will you need? Because of the newly redesigned 2018 Form 1040, many people will only need to file the Form 1040 and not the new numbered schedules. 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 and one of the new numbered schedules or the existing lettered schedules. Click here for a list of documents you may need to properly complete your tax return.

Deadline for Filing: The deadline for filing your 2018 tax return (or Form 4868 for an automatic extension of time to file a return) is April 15, 2019.

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?