Filing your taxes on your own for the first time is a major life milestone. Here's some friendly advice to help ensure you dot all of your i's and cross your t's.
Filing taxes for the first time is a big milestone for any young adult. In the past, your parents may have handled tax filing for you, but now it's your turn to take charge of your finances and file your own return. To help you cruise through the process, here are some quick tips for how to file taxes on your own for the first time.
1. Gather all of your tax documents
If you're expecting a refund, you might be eager to file your tax return as soon as you can. Throughout January, February and even March, you can still receive important tax documents in your mailbox, email or online.
Collect all the tax documents needed for your taxes before you begin, such as your
- tax forms that report other types of income,
- tax deductions, and
If you file without one of these forms, you might need to amend your tax return later.
Take a minute and think about anything you did in the past year that might impact your taxes, such as:
- Changing jobs
- Opening a new savings account
- Selling stocks or mutual funds
- Paying college tuition or student loan interest
2. Decide whether your parents can claim you as a dependent
Many young adults get financial assistance from their parents, even after they start earning their own money. You might still live with your parents, get money from them to help with living expenses, or they may be paying for your education. If so, your parents might still claim you as a dependent on their tax return.
There are two ways your parents might claim you as a dependent:
- Qualifying child. If you're under the age of 19 (or under age 24 and a full-time student) and your parents provide more than half of your financial support, your parents can likely claim you as a qualifying child.
- Qualifying relative. If you're not a qualifying child, your parents might be able to claim you as a qualifying relative if you earned less than $4,300 in 2020, lived with your parents all year and your parents paid more than half of your total support for the year.
If your parents claim you as a dependent, they might be able to get certain tax benefits, such as education tax credits and the Credit for Other Dependents. You still have to file a tax return if you had enough income, but when you prepare your return, you'll have to indicate that you can be claimed as dependent on someone else’s return.
Before you file, talk to your parents to find out whether they intend to claim you as a dependent so everyone is on the same page.
3. Consider relevant tax deductions and credits
Tax deductions and credits can lower your overall tax bill and even increase your refund, so you want to make sure you take advantage of everything you’re entitled to claim.
Some common tax deductions and credits for first-time filers include:
- Education credits like the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit
- Student loan interest deduction
- Standard deduction or itemized deductions
- Earned Income Tax Credit
- Home office deduction, if you are self-employed
Don’t worry about researching the rules for claiming these tax credits and deductions. TurboTax will ask simple questions to help you claim the tax breaks you’re eligible for.
4. Don't forget about your gig economy income
Millions of young people participate in the gig economy as rideshare drivers, making package or food deliveries, freelancing full or part-time or working as a project-based consultant. If you've earned income from freelancing, don't forget to report your gig work income on your tax return.
- Depending on how much you earn, you may receive a 1099-MISC for your work. But even if you don't, you still need to report the income to the IRS.
- You'll report your gig work income on Schedule C attached to your Form 1040.
- Usually, you can deduct any expenses related to your gig work, such as miles driven, supplies and advertising costs on Schedule C as well.
5. File electronically
Nowadays, you can do most everything from paying your bills to ordering lunch online, and filing your taxes is no exception. Using TurboTax makes the tax filing process simple because it walks you through a series of questions, fills out the right forms and helps ensure you claim all the right credits and deductions.
If you choose to e-file your return rather than print and mail it to the IRS, you don't have to think about the correct postage or stand in line at the post office.
- The IRS estimates that taxpayers who e-file their tax returns often have their refunds issued in as little as three weeks.
- You’ll often receive your refund even faster if you choose to have your tax refund directly deposited into your checking or savings account.
Now that you’re on the way to filing your taxes for the first time, it’ll only get easier. Remember, TurboTax will ask you simple questions and walk you through the whole process from forms to deductions to credits so that you can get the biggest refund you qualify for when you file taxes for the first time.