How to File Federal Income Taxes

How to File Federal Income Taxes. Every person living or working in the United States and every U.S. citizen living anywhere in the world is responsible for determining what federal income taxes he or she owes, if any.

Determine whether you have to file a federal income tax return. If your income is low, you may not have to file. But even children have to file if they meet certain income levels or have certain types of income.

Find out what filing status you qualify for. In some circumstances you have a choice of filing statuses. Some filing statuses are better than others.

Determine how many personal and dependent exemptions you have. Personal exemptions are for yourself and your spouse. Anyone can be your dependent if he or she qualifies.

Calculate your income. Many types of money you receive can be taxable income, but some types are not.

Calculate your income adjustments. You are allowed to subtract some things from your income and lower your taxes.

Calculate your deductions. You can choose between a standard deduction and itemized deductions. Deductions lower the amount of your income that is subject to taxes.

Determine your income tax. Taxable income minus adjustments, minus deductions, and minus exemptions equals the income on which you are taxed. Tax tables or schedules will tell you how much your income tax is.

Determine your credits. You can get credits against your income tax for certain situations or expenses.

Determine your additional taxes. In some circumstances - for example, if you are self-employed - you may have to pay additional taxes.

Find out your total payments. This includes taxes withheld by your employer, estimated tax payments you made, and the earned income credit. The total is how much you have paid or has been paid for you.

Find out the amount you have overpaid or underpaid. This will be your refund or the amount of tax you still have to pay. You could have a penalty for underpaying your taxes, but only if you were off by a significant amount.

Get the right tax forms and fill them out.


  • Always start with Form 1040. The IRS has detailed instruction publications for every form you may have to fill out. Use them. Even if your income is low enough that you don't have to file taxes, you may want to anyway. By filing, you can get back the taxes that were withheld. You may also qualify for the earned income credit, which will give you money even if you don't owe any taxes. If your situation is not simple and straightforward, or if you own a business or are self-employed, consider going to a qualified tax preparer. These professionals know of many ways to lower your taxes. Always file your tax return even if you can't pay your taxes. The penalties for not filing are many times worse than for not paying.


  • Never put down information that you know is false or should know is false. The IRS takes this very seriously.

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