For some people, trips to the tax accountant are more terrifying than trips to the dentist. If you know what to bring ahead of time, however, you're likely to lower your anxiety and save yourself multiple trips. It's much better to have too many records and not be able to use them all than to miss out on deductions because you didn't bring enough.
Basic Identifying Information
To file your return, you need to know your Social Security number and birth date. If you're filing a joint return, you've also got to know your spouse's information. As if memorizing two sets of numbers wasn't hard enough, you've got to know the Social Security numbers of any children you're planning to claim. Though your spouse might give you a pass if you can't remember her number or your newborn's birthday, the IRS won't. Any incorrect number or dates will usually result in your tax return being rejected, or at least your dependents being disallowed.
Bring all the documents that show your income for the year. If you work as an employee, your income will be reported to you on a Form W-2. Independent contractors have their income reported on a Form 1099-MISC. Interest income goes on a 1099-INT and dividends are reported on a 1099-DIV. If you received unemployment during the year, you must include that in your taxable income. You should receive a 1099-G that shows the income. If you won enough money gambling, you should receive a Form W-2G that shows your winnings.
Deduction or Credit Information
A wide range of deductions and credits are available to help you increase your tax refund. Some expenses are noted on specific forms. If you've got a student loan you're still paying off, you should receive a 1098-E that shows the amount of interest you pay. If you've got a mortgage, your interest should be on a Form 1098. Some other deductions don't have a specific form, but do require documentation. For example, if you donated money to a charity, you need a receipt for the amount of the donation. Similarly, if you want to claim your medical expenses, you need receipts showing the amount.
If you are self-employed, you could be missing out on significant tax breaks if you don't keep detailed records of all of your business costs. Business expenses include not only the costs of any goods you sell, but also advertising costs, transportation expenses and office expenses. If you have doubts about deducting a particular expense, bring in the documentation so the taxpayer can tell you for sure. Self-employment expenses are doubly important because not only do they reduce your federal income tax, but your self-employment tax as well.
Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."