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Updated March 8, 2018.
Published January 20, 2016.

Prep for Tax Day now; enjoy a boring evening at home later.

We all love surprises, unless they're terrible.

Like when it’s midnight before your taxes are due, and your Form 1099-S for property-sale income is nowhere to be found. To say nothing of your middle child’s Social Security number.

When it comes to doing your taxes, boring is good. There's a way to make doing your taxes as uneventful as it should be — prepare.

Whether you do your own taxes or hire a professional, you'll need to provide personal information about yourself and dependents; information about your income; and information about expenses you've paid that can reduce what you owe or earn as tax credits.

Here's a checklist of important information you might need, divided into those major categories. It's not exhaustive, but it includes many of the forms and other documents taxpayers are most likely to need.

Personal information.

The federal government needs to know who you are ― and how to pay you if you get a refund. So you’ll need:

  • Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and your dependents.
  • Your credit union or bank account number and the financial institution’s routing number, if you want the government to directly deposit any refund.

Break preparation into manageable pieces, and tackle a bit at a time.


Whether you earned money from employment, your pension, or jury duty, it’s all potentially reportable on your taxes. You might need to report:

  • Income from each of your employers. (They each should send you a Form W-2, which also indicates the amount of income taxes you've already paid.)
  • Income you earned as an independent contractor. (You should get a Form 1099-MISC from each company you worked for.)
  • Income from unemployment benefits. (You should receive a Form 1099-G.)
  • Social Security benefits (SSA-1099) or payments from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (Form RRB-1099).
  • Interest you earned from savings accounts. (1099-INT)
  • Dividends you received for stocks, mutual funds, or money market accounts (1099-DIV) or income from any sales of stock (1099-B).
  • Money you received through a pension, annuity, or IRA distribution. (1099-R)
  • Did you win the lottery? Get paid for jury duty? Cash in at the casino? That’s all potentially taxable income, too. (Form 1099-MISC)

Deductions and tax credits.

When preparing your tax return, you can either take a standard deduction or itemize your deductions. If you decide to itemize, you should know how much:

  • Interest you paid on the mortgage for your home. If you pay interest on a loan for a vacation home, you can deduct that, too ― along with any interest you paid on home-equity loans. (Form 1098)
  • Interest you paid on tuition or student loans. (Forms 1098-T and 1098-E)
  • Income, property, and sales taxes were paid during the year.
  • Tax you paid on personal property such as certain vehicles. The collecting agency should send you a statement.
  • You spent on medical and dental expenses. Along with doctor bills, this list of expenses might include insurance premiums, assisted-living expenses, and medically related home improvements such as wheelchair ramps.
  • You donated to qualified charities. You should have your receipts, if applicable. (Charity Navigator offers a good overview of the tax benefits of giving.)
  • You spent on child care or care for other dependents. (You’ll need to know how much you paid over the year and the provider’s tax-ID number.)
  • You spent on education-related expenses. (The IRS breaks down the tax benefits related to education on its website here.)

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve made progress already. And when it’s time to sit down to prepare your taxes, your experience might be surprisingly painless.


Bell, Kay. “7 ways to get organized for the tax year.”, January 8, 2016. 

Rosen, Elizabeth. “Tax Form Checklist.”, January 8, 2016.

AARP Foundation. “AARP Foundation Tax-Aide: Important Documents to Bring to the Tax-Aide Site.”,  January 8, 2016. January 8, 2016.

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