W-2s record all of your earnings that you’ve made with your employers. These forms are sent out by January 31st.
1099s cover any dividends or interest you earn on investment accounts. If you give someone any contract labor to someone they will send you a 1099. If you take money out of an IRA you will get a 1099. Those forms have to go out by the middle of February.
Many people are filing through e-file tax software. You can file for free, though, through an IRS program called Free File (www.irs.gov/freefile) if your household income is below a certain threshold. Be aware that these are private companies that are offering this service, so they may have additional limits on income and ages. But those forms are available to everyone.
You can also get assistance. If you need someone to talk to personally, the VITA program is a useful resource. Once again, income thresholds apply. Visit the IRS website (www.irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep) or call 1-800-906-9887, and plug in your zip code to find someone local who can help you. We also have tax prep companies out there and wonderful CPAs who can help us.
If you’re going to get a refund, then most refunds will go out within 21 days of filing. If you’re trying to track it, track it through “Where’s My Refund?” through the IRS website (www.irs.gov/refunds). They even have an app (IRS2Go). One of the things the app will do, besides giving you special tips and interesting information, is that it will help you look at where your refund is in the process. Many people have it directly deposited into an account. You can fill out form 8888 and split that deposit—that refund—into as many as three accounts. So that’s a great way to get it out of your hands and into a savings account first and still be able to have some money to spend. They will also send your refund in savings bonds, if you request it, or the paper check.
For those of us who are going to be paying the IRS, many of us will do it electronically. Of course, you can use that credit card or debit card, but be careful because there are extra fees for doing that. Some of those are very steep. You can check on www.irs.gov to look for your provider and see how much they will charge.