US Income Tax Primer

Tax Preperation Software

It can be a useful exercise to print out your tax forms and fill them in by hand, but that's not the best way to do it. If you don't have particularly high income, you might qualify for free online software that will help you fill out the forms and e-file them for you. Otherwise, you should use Free Fillable Forms. While not technically part of the IRS, FFF is authorized by the IRS. Both types of free e-filing services are linked from irs.gov during tax season, start here.

Get to know From 1040

The latest PDF is online here. It is incredibly useful to read the instructions, which are here.

For reference, we'll look at the Form 1040 for Tax Year 2013, which you'll be using sometime between February and April of 2014. This form varies only slightly year-to-year.

Form 1040

People often complain that US income taxes are complicated, and they certainly are, but it's worth mentioning that this is just 2 pages, with only about 100 things to fill in, most of which are blank, identical year-to-year, or mailed to you on a slip of paper that tells you which line to enter it on. If you have ever had your taxes prepared for you in the past (by a CPA, a tax-prep service, or by software) you can probably use that past return as a reference and do your taxes yourself. There are simplified versions of Form 1040 that are less over-whelming because they leave out most of the stuff that gets left blank on the full Form 1040. It's worth learning about Form 1040 even if you use a 1040EZ or have someone else prepare your taxes, though, because websites sharing tax tips will make more sense if you understand Form 1040 and its instructions.

changed December 3, 2013 delete history edit