Procrastinator's Guide to Filing Your Taxes at the Last Minute
If you’ve put off your taxes until the last minute, you’re not alone; on average, more than one in three taxpayers wait until April to file their return! Here are the 7 steps you need to follow to finish your return quickly and effectively.
1. Get to Know 1099 Tax Lingo
The filing process is much smoother when you know what everything means. There are a few need-to-know terms you should be familiar with, including:
Adjusted Gross Income: Your income minus certain IRS-approved personal deductions (things like student loan interest, self-employed health insurance payments, IRA contributions, and more). The IRS will use your AGI to see if you’re eligible for certain tax breaks.
Business profit: The money you made from your business, after expenses. You’re only taxed on your profit from self-employed work!
Deductions or “write-offs”: These are the expenses that give you a tax break. If you pay for something that the IRS has decided you can “deduct” on your tax return, it means you can subtract that expense from your income. Get a list of deductible expenses based on your job-type here.
Tax liability: The amount of tax you owe when you send in your tax return.
Tax return: The tax paperwork that you send to the IRS listing your income, deductions, and how much you owe in taxes. You’ll definitely file a Form 1040, among others!
Taxable income: This is what you pay taxes on. Calculate it by finding your AGI, then subtracting the standard deduction (or your itemized deductions) and the qualified business income deduction (if applicable)
Running into other terms you don’t understand? Check out the full list of definitions in our Taxes 101 Guide.
2. Gather All Your Forms
To complete your tax return, you’ll need a few forms on hand. These include:
Form 1099-K: This is a form that reports payments from a third party, like Etsy or Uber, to the IRS. You should receive one if the company that you contracted for facilitated at least 200 transactions for you and these transactions totaled $20,000 or more.
Form 1099-MISC: This form reports how much you’ve been paid by a company. They are sent to independent contractors who have received at least $600 in payments in a given tax year.
Form W-2: If you are a traditional full- or part-time employee, your employer will send you this form reporting how much you earned in wages and what percentage has already been withheld for taxes.
You should have received these forms in the mail at the beginning of the year. If you lost them (or didn’t receive them!), reach out to your employers, clients, and/or the IRS ASAP!
If you plan on filing your return without the help of software or a tax professional, you’ll want to make sure you also have the right paperwork on hand, including:
Form 1040: The go-to form for all taxpayers. It’s where you’ll report your income, deductions, and tax credits to determine your overall tax liability.
Schedule C: The Profit and Loss Business form you’ll use to add up your self-employed tax deductions.
Schedule SE: The form that determines what portion of your self-employed income you owe for Medicare and Social Security taxes, which are not withheld from 1099 earnings.
3. Get Your Expense Documentation Together
If you’re self-employed, tax write-offs can help you save thousands of dollars on taxes. That’s because every business expense that you deduct lowers your taxable income and reduces the amount of tax you owe. Typical deductions include things like:
Mileage + car expenses
Travel (work related, not personal)
The IRS requires documentation that shows the amount, time, place, vendor, and purpose of every expense you deduct. Hopefully, you’ve been tracking your expenses throughout the year for an easier filing process.
If you haven’t been tracking your expenses though, you’re not out of luck. Albeit more time consuming, you can still retroactively find evidence of your business expenses from the past year. For example, you can:
Cross reference your itemized credit card statements, your calendar, and your business records to find proof of business-related transactions.
Log into online accounts (e.g. for your phone, utility, and health insurance bills) to find digital records of relevant expenses.
Use old maintenance receipts to find past odometer readings and track business mileage.
For more advice on how to retroactively track business expenses, read our guide here.
4. Decide How to File
Depending on your individual tax situation, you may find it best to work with a tax professional or software. Alternatively, you may feel comfortable filing all on your own! Whatever you choose, be sure to make arrangements quickly. Tax software tends to increase in price as the season nears its end, and tax preparers’ schedules fill up as many taxpayers seek help at the last minute.
Not sure which filing option is best for you? Check out our nifty chart below and read this guide for more details.
5. Take Advantage of the Stride Tax Team
If you have any tax questions about business deductions, reporting self-employment income, or how to use your Stride Tax deduction report throughout your last-minute filing frenzy and have Stride Tax account, feel free to reach out to our tax support team! We have worked with thousands of self-employed workers and have several educational resources on hand.
6. File That Return, Baby!
Once you’ve gathered your paperwork, tracked down your expenses, and chosen your preparation method, it’s time to file your tax return. This process can take several hours, so be sure to give yourself as much time as you can; small mathematical errors or missing paperwork are the root causes of most audits later on in the season.
7. No Time? File for an Extension
If you’ve cut it too close to the deadline, file an extension immediately. This gives you six more months to track down deductions, finish paperwork, and file your tax return. Extensions must be filed before the April 15 deadline. Don’t forget: even if you file for an extension, you still need to pay the taxes you owe before the April 15th deadline; otherwise, you face tax penalties for late payment. Tax softwares like Credit Karma Tax, H&R Block, or TurboTax can help you estimate how much you should pay before officially filing your return.
Still have questions about your self-employed taxes? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.