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5 Simple Steps to File Your Taxes
Does the thought of tax season make you break out in hives? Fear no more! Our easy, step-by-step guide will help you prepare for taxes without even breaking a sweat!
Most people dread this time of year because of all the filing and paperwork involved with taxes. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way! Preparing for taxes can actually be a simple, no-stress process if you do a little work on the front end. All it takes is some organization and time.
Step 1: Gather Documents
To get started, you need to collect all of your tax documents. This includes your W-2s, 1099s, mortgage interest statements and charitable giving receipts. Don't forget any receipts for other deductions like childcare, education costs and home improvements. If in doubt, keep the document or receipt on file until it's tax time. You'll be glad to have these documents on hand in case you discover that you can use them when filing your taxes.
Step 2: Know Dates
You must file your taxes by April 17 (since April 15 is a Sunday and April 16 is a Washington D.C. holiday). Income and investment interest forms are mailed to you by January 31. Keep an eye on the calendar. If you don't receive your tax statements, call the necessary people to be sure you receive your paperwork in plenty of time to get your taxes done.
Step 3: Organize Papers
Purchase a few manila folders, an accordion file, or a filing system that will hold your tax documents. In one folder, put all paperwork dealing with income—W-2s, 1099s and investment interest statements. In another folder, file paperwork for your deductions such as mortgage interest, property taxes, charitable giving and student loan interest. Create a third folder to file receipts for deductions that aren't in the form of statements, such as medical and home improvement expenses.
Step 4: File Taxes
Once you have all your tax documents organized, you're ready to file your taxes! If you're young, single and don't own a home, your return could be simple enough to file yourself, especially if you plan to take the standard, no-questions-asked deduction. If you have a more detailed return, or you're a little uneasy about doing the paperwork yourself, Dave's team can help you find a tax services professional to do it for you—all you have to do is organize your documents. Either way, make sure you feel comfortable with your decision, and then file away!
Step 5: Relax!
Your taxes have been filed, and you no longer have to worry about hitting that April 17 deadline. Thanks to your new organizational system, next year's taxes will be a breeze. Remember to promptly file any tax documents when you receive them so you don't have to search the house for them next year. Once you've filed your taxes, save the documents for seven years.
See, that wasn't so bad, was it? It just takes a little time and energy, and you'll be set for life if you implement these five steps when you prepare for tax season. Plus, you'll eliminate the stress and worry if you are organized on the front end.
Find a Professional You Can Trust
Dave's tax Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) are professionals who will take the time to explain your taxes and make sure you get every deduction you're eligible to receive. Don't wait until the tax crunch. Contact your tax ELP today!
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The Three-Legged Race Called Marriage
Ever been in one of those three-legged races where someone ties your leg to another person's leg? If both of you don't put the tied-together leg forward at the same time, you'll be awkwardly plodding along at best and eating dirt at worst. You have to work together.
Money and marriage is the same way. If you are pulling in opposite directions and not talking to each other about what you want and need, then you'll end up flat on your financial faces. That starts the path to bitterness and divorce.
Money is a sensitive subject to lots of people. The number-one cause of divorce in America today is money fights and money problems. But the good news is, if money is the thing that we fight about most, then agreeing on money can completely turn a relationship around.
The best way to break the ice is with a budget. When you make a spending plan, it's more than just numbers on a page. Each person has a reason for putting those numbers there. They reflect what is important to that person.
When you see what your spouse wants to put the money toward, it's a great opportunity to communicate about it. When starting this conversation, remember that no one is right or wrong. The talking is simply about telling the other person what is important to you. No smart-aleck remarks or accusations allowed. Everything is on the table for both people.
On that note, a mature married couple compromises. One member doesn't always get his or her way. If a husband and wife want to go to different restaurants, they sit down and talk it out. Maybe they go to a third eatery or agree to alternate (she gets her choice tonight, he gets his next time). Either way, a compromise is reached.
That's the sign of a couple who has their act together and will win at whatever they do. Why? Because they are willing to give. They are willing to work together. Success is found by people like that.
Tonight, have a heart-to-heart talk about money priorities for each of you, and make a budget with your spouse. The Gazelle Budget Lite is a great place to start—just plug in your monthly income, and it gives you recommended spending percentages in categories like food, transportation, housing and others. It's a quick and easy way to get started together.
Once you know where you both stand, you can start to work on getting there and, if necessary, to compromise in order to reach a goal that both of you like. Doing this will require sacrifice, but it will lead to a level of trust, intimacy and calm in your marriage that you never knew. It's worth it, and then some.
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The True Cost of Do-It-Yourself Taxes
When you use software to file your income taxes, there's a moment, an instant just before the point of no return, when you silently wonder—what if?
What if I didn't enter the numbers correctly?
What if I miscalculated?
What if I missed a deduction or credit?
What if I claimed a deduction or credit I'm not eligible for?
All that uncertainty is one of the downsides of self-filing. Other disadvantages can hit you where it hurts most—your wallet.
Since most folks aren't tax experts, it's easy for them to miss deductions or credits when they self-file. They are also more likely to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their expenses. Either of these mistakes could lower their refund.
Take a look at these numbers from our recent survey of 2,000 of Dave's Facebook fans.
- Self-filers got an average refund of just less than $1,500.
- But folks who had their returns professionally prepared had an average refund of nearly $1,800!
- Procrastinating self-filers, those who filed their returns during April, got an average refund of more than $1,800, while those who used a pro got an average $2,600 refund!
Those folks potentially lost hundreds of dollars by trying to save a buck and doing their taxes themselves. It doesn't seem like such a smart choice now, does it?
The cost of DIY tax prep isn't limited to the size of your refund. Your mistakes can also cost you in the form of penalties and interest.
The IRS checks every return for a signature (manual or electronic) and math errors and cross-checks all sources of income that are reported via W2s, 1099s, etc. So if you fail to report any income or enter the wrong number in the wrong column, the IRS will call you on it.
And if it turns out you owe taxes, by the time the IRS notifies you, penalties and interest will have already inflated that amount. You'll be charged a penalty for paying late and you'll be charged interest from the date the tax was due until the date of payment, and it compounds daily.
By working with a tax professional, you'll not only have confidence that your taxes will be done right the first time, you'll also have peace of mind that your tax professional will be there to help you if the IRS has questions about your return. File with tax software, and you're on your own if the IRS comes knocking.
Get Professional Tax Prep
It's important to work with a tax pro who will explain your taxes to you so you'll understand how you can save on taxes all year. Dave's tax Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) are experts with the heart of a teacher who will make sure you'll get every deduction you deserve. Find your tax ELP today!
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Have you started Christmas planning yet?
Wait a minute ... the Christmas season just ended, right? Why in the world should you be worried about budgeting for Christmas already?
Good question. Let's dig in a little deeper.
We all know that Christmas comes on the same day every year. That shouldn't be much of a surprise if you've been living for more than three or four years.
But, somehow, when it comes to our money, we act like they've moved Christmas on us. Every year, as soon as we eat that last little bit of turkey at Thanksgiving, the realization sets in: "Oh no! Christmas is just a month away! Money is so tight! What are we going to do?"
The best Christmas spending plan is one that takes into account the entire year. Take a look at this past Christmas.
Did you spend too much money? Were you rushed to buy stuff in time and just paid for whatever you could get your hands on? Did your money plan consist of throwing it all on a credit card and watching the bills roll in during January?
You probably already know this, but that's an awful plan.
What if you started planning your budget for Christmas 2012 right now? Set aside a little bit of money every month and look for deals throughout the year, not just in December. When you actually have time to make a solid plan, you can make better decisions with your hard-earned money.
Also, think about who you want to buy gifts for this year. Maybe you can cut out a few people, or plan some type of drawing where you only give to one or two other people.
Some of that planning can come later, but the main thing is that you need to make sure you have the cash to cover Christmas. You do that by saving—it's not rocket science! But thousands and thousands of people allow December 25 to sneak up on them, and they end up overspending.
You have 10 months until the start of the Christmas season. What can you do now to make this Christmas less of a burden on your bank account? Share your tips and see what others have to say.
Get on a budget and make a plan with Financial Peace University—Dave Ramsey's 13-week class that will help you make the most of your income all year long. Hundreds of classes are going on around the country, so find one in your town now.
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The $80 Ornament
One Christmas I bought an ornament for my kids at Hallmark. I wrote a check for just over $16 for it. I wasn't paying much attention to my checking account, and sure enough it dipped into the red. And yes, that $16 check got returned.
Hallmark called, and I had to go into the store and give them $50 to pay for the ornament and the returned check fees. I also got slapped with a $30 NSF fee from my bank.
That cheesy $80 plastic ornament is a good reminder for me to pay attention to my money!
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A New Life Together
By Ashlee and Kevin in Texas
When my husband and I decided to get married, we together had $50,000 of debt, plus he had a $75,000 mortgage. We skipped the fancy wedding and even decided not to take a honeymoon.
Our first priority was to get out of this hole we had created so we could build a life together on top of a solid foundation rather than teetering over a bottomless pit. So he sold his house, and we moved into an all-bills-paid apartment community. No internet, no cable, no excessive spending.
Most of the things people think they can't live without are actually very easy to get used to not having. After only 16 months of marriage, we were able to call ourselves debt-free!
This has brought us closer together that we were able to overcome such an obstacle, and we have now eliminated one of the top reasons couples get divorced. We are now halfway to having our full emergency fund and have decided to reward our hard work with a belated honeymoon to France, paid in full with cash!
This is only the beginning—we will be saving now for a house to be paid for in cash. One hundred percent of foreclosures have a mortgage. No mortgage for us. We would rather save for a couple of years and have a paid-off small home, than live in a house that would take 30 years to pay for.
Good luck to all of you out there starting your journey to climb out of the pit. It sure is sunny at the top.
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What's Happening at daveramsey.com
There's always a lot going on at daveramsey.com! Here are a few highlights that you may have missed recently:
3 Goals That Will Change Your Life This Year
Here are three simple, totally achievable goals that will change your life—at least financially—this year and well into the future.
I'm a ____, But I Want To Be a _____.
If you've ever said, "I'm a [insert profession], but I want to be a [dream job]," read this from Jon Acuff.
EntreLeader Spotlight: Jonathan Frase
This Memphis-based leader discusses leadership lessons he's learned since taking over his father's business.
Come One, Come All
Thousands of people are finding a Financial Peace University class in their town with our new mapping tool. See for yourself.
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Find Dave's Class in Your Town
||Financial Peace University classes are beginning all over the country, so get involved with one in your area.
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- March 16, 2012 - EntreLeadership 1-Day - Orlando, FL
- March 17, 2012 - Total Money Makeover LIVE! - Orlando, FL
- April 13, 2012 - EntreLeadership 1-Day - San Antonio, TX
- April 14, 2012 - Total Money Makeover LIVE! - San Antonio, TX
- May 5, 2012 - Total Money Makeover LIVE! - Grand Rapids, MI
- May 6–12, 2012 - EntreLeadership Master Series - Tucson, AZ
Keep up on the latest happenings by following Dave on Twitter: @daveramsey
Did you know Dave has a Speakers Group? Here are a few upcoming dates.
- January 26–28, 2012 - Jon Acuff - Southeast Conclave - Chattanooga, TN
- February 2, 2012 - Jon Acuff - FBC Power Lunch - Dallas, TX
- February 2, 2012 - Chris LoCurto - Mulzer Crushed Stone - Tell City, IN
- February 4, 2012 - Chris Hogan - Casas Church - Tucson, AZ
- February 8, 2012 - Chris Hogan - University of Wyoming - Laramie, WY
- February 11–12, 2012 - Jon Acuff - Quitter Conference - Nashville, TN
- February 21, 2012 - Chris LoCurto - Mississippi University for Women - Columbus, MS
- February 21–22, 2012 - Rachel Cruze - Northwestern University - St. Paul, MN
- February 22–23, 2012 - Russ Carroll - Lake Michigan College - Benton Harbor, MI
- February 24, 2012 - Jon Acuff - BlissDom - Nashville, TN
- February 25–26, 2012 - Jon Acuff - Grand Avenue Church - Fort Smith, AR
- February 27, 2012 - Rachel Cruze - Azusa Pacific University - Los Angeles, CA
- February 28, 2012 - Rachel Cruze - University of Utah - Salt Lake City, UT
- February 29, 2012 - Rachel Cruze - Sam Houston State University - Huntsville, TX
Want to bring one of Dave's speakers to your group or event? Find out how.
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Quote of the Month
"Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge, so the answer to your money problems will be found in your mirror." —Dave Ramsey via Twitter, @daveramsey
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