Getting Started

Before we can start on your tax return, you need to gather your information. It's impossible to know in advance exactly what you're going to need, but you can make a pretty good guess. Most of it will come in the mail, requiring little effort on your part. W-2 and 1099 forms show the income you earned in the past year. Form 1098 shows the interest you paid on your home mortgage. If you have a business or a rental, be sure to look at the tax guides to see what other information you need.

So what do you need to do?

Set aside those W-2 forms for now and look at the 1099's. If it's a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV, you won't need to worry about them. Put them with your W-2's.

1099-R (Retirement or pension income). You'll need to know when you began receiving the pension, and whether any of the money was taxed (or deducted, if it's an IRA) before it was contributed. A portion of it may be nontaxable.

1099-S (Real Estate sales: If you sold real estate and received a 1099-S, you need to know what you bought the property for in the first place. You will also want to collect all your closing costs and expenses of sale. In addition, if you made significant improvements on the property, you'll want to find records of all those expenses, too. If this was your own home, where you lived for at least two years, you may not need all this detail unless the sale price was over $250,000 ($500,000 if you're married filing jointly). If you've ever rented the property out, you'll need to find the tax returns for those years, too.

1099-B (Stock Sales): If you've kept all your annual statements since you bought the stock, that's probably all you need. If not, expect to pay extra for the research. You need to know not only how much you paid for the stock, but whether any dividends were reinvested, and what stock splits have taken place since you purchased it. You may be able to do some of this research yourself on the Internet. Some brokers now put that information in the statement with your 1099-B, but be aware that it may not be accurate.

W2-G (Gambling Income): If you gamble, keep track of your losses as well as your wins. Your winnings are taxable, but sometimes you can deduct your losses. For more information, see the Tax Guide for Itemized Deductions.

1099-MISC: There are a number of reasons you may receive a 1099-MISC. The most common reason is that you worked for someone as an independent contractor. In that case, you're considered to be self-employed. (Fishermen may also receive these for wages earned aboard the boat.) Assuming you agree, you need to collect any expenses you have in connection with the work in question. Read the Tax Guide for New Businesses, if you haven't done this before. If you received this in connection with a working interest in an oil well, the company will also provide you with a statement showing your share of expenses for the year. If you received royalty or other income reported on a 1099-MISC, be sure you know exactly what the income is for.

There are a few other forms you may receive, like a 1098-E for student loan interest, or a 1099-T for tuition costs. Usually you won't need to do any additional research for those.

If you have any income that's not reported on a government form, please ask about it before you bring (send) me your tax information.

Of course there's other information I'll need to know. Your name, address, birthdate, Social Security number, and so forth. Also the same information regarding your spouse and any dependents. The best way to handle that is to fill out an organizer. If you call or email me and ask, I'll send you one by email or snail mail. Or you can download and fill out the .pdf organizer on site, then print and mail or email it to me with your other information.

The next step is to get the information to me. This can be done by mail,fax, or email. Be sure to give me a phone appointment time — a time and number where I'll be able to reach you if you have any additional questions. Click the links on the left for more information.