Doing your taxes doesn’t have to be terrifying. I’ve been helping others do their taxes for free since I was a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in 2013. That’s when one of my professors told me I could become certified in basic tax preparation and volunteer to help people file their returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
I’m now an audit associate at KPMG, but I can assure you, there are plenty of free, web-based programs out there that are perfect for those of us who are fresh out of school with relatively simple returns. Just follow these tips, and you should be able to get your taxes done in less than an hour.
- Call your parents. No, not to ask for help. You really can do this. But your parents may keep you on their health insurance plan until you turn 26.Likewise, many of us recent college grads were insured through our universities. But that coverage typically ends on graduation day, so it’s critical to find out how you’re covered now. If you’re not insured through work, school, or mom and dad, you’ll have to pay a penalty.
- Make sure you’ve got all your forms. For most of us, a W-2 is almost all we need to file our taxes. Free programs like MyFreeTaxes from United Way will walk you through the process--line by line.
- Look for credits. If you’re still in school and your parents aren’t claiming you as a dependent, you can deduct qualified tuition and related expenses. If you’ve graduated, the same is true for student loans.Did you donate to your favorite cause? Make sure you’ve got a receipt—you can claim that as well.
- Be ready for surprises: For those students or even young professionals who pick up gig-based jobs, be sure to have your 1099s. Those short-term, non-salaried jobs can be a nice boost for your wallet, but employers typically don’t take taxes out of your payments, so that could add to your tax burden.If you get hit with a bill this year, it’s something you might want to consider when planning for next year.
- Have faith in yourself. My sister pays $250 for someone else to do her taxes, even though she has a pretty simple return (and a sister skilled in the process). It’s a mistake. If you don’t have anything complex going on and don’t need specific tax advice, try a free, web-based program. You’ll save yourself a lot of money, which can then be used for other things!Many of the people I met as a VITA volunteer planned to use their tax returns on little things that made a huge difference: for example, catching up on overdue bills. Just think of what you could do with your savings.
Image: alelamoi / iStock.