When it comes time to file your taxes, there are three ways to get the job done. No matter how you decide to file, there are certain things you should have ready ahead of time to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Couple at home trying to file your taxes.jpegYou’ll need access to your personal information like social security numbers for anyone named on the tax return, including your dependents. Gather documentation that shows all your income for the year, including W-2s from employers, 1099 forms for any contract work you or your spouse performed, investment income information, and paperwork that shows any rental income, social security benefits, and unemployment income.

If you had moving expenses, a homebuyer tax credit, green energy credits, mortgage interest, student loan interest, or medical savings account contributions, include paperwork showing those amounts, as well. You may get tax deductions and credits for childcare costs, education costs, charitable contributions, medical expenses, or unreimbursed work expenses. If you have documentation that shows these costs, include it.

If you want to have your tax refund deposited directly into your bank account, have your bank account number and routing number ready too.

Fill out paper forms

Some people prefer to do their taxes by hand using the forms provided by the IRS. If the paperwork is accurate, complete, and matches the information the IRS has on file, you can expect to get any tax refund money back between six and eight weeks after the IRS receives your forms.

Filing taxes using paper forms and the U.S. Mail takes longer because the IRS must process those returns by hand. When you choose to file your return on paper, you can expect the IRS to acknowledge receipt within three to four weeks.

File online

According to the IRS, four out of five tax returns are prepared and filed online, either by a professional or by the taxpayer. When you choose to e-file and accept a tax return via direct deposit, you can expect to see the money within 21 days of the IRS accepting your tax forms.

The IRS estimates that the earliest tax return payments for e-filers who claim the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) or Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) will be late February. They can’t legally issue tax returns claiming either of these two credits before mid-February.

Let a tax professional handle it

More than half of people in the United States who file taxes let the professionals handle it for them. The federal tax code is extensive, so using a professional tax preparer is the most effective way to ensure that your taxes are done correctly.

With many tax preparation services, you can count on year-round support if there’s a problem with your return or if the IRS chooses to audit you. If finding the time and energy to file your own taxes is keeping you from getting the job done, it may be a good idea to get a free quote from a professional.

Many preparers use free downloadable apps to help make the process streamlined and simple. You can sign electronically and even forward information through the app. There’s no need for an office visit.

Most professional tax preparation services pride themselves on reducing tax bills and increasing refunds for their clients by checking thoroughly for deductions and credits. For many people, it’s worth hiring a professional.

Tax professionals access e-filing and direct deposit to make the process streamlined for their clients. For many filers, using a tax service is the best way to get the biggest refund, quickly.

There are other perks that come with hiring a professional to handle your taxes, too. Access to financial services like tax advance loans, financial advice about how to adjust withholdings, and information about how the new tax laws may affect your refund in the future are just a few extras you’ll get when you trust a tax expert to handle filing your taxes.

Taxes can be overwhelming. That's why we've created the Sunset Finance Guide to Tax Returns to provide more information.

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