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Top 9 IRS Tax Forms You Need to Know

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Top IRS forms laid out on a table.

If you’re like most people who have to file annual tax returns, there’s a dizzying array of forms. Here are nine of the top Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax forms you might need to know about.

1. Form 1040-EZ

If your tax situation isn’t complicated, you might be able to take the “easy” route and file Form 1040-EZ. You need to meet all the requirements, such as being under 65 years old, single or married filing jointly, claiming no dependents, and with taxable income less than $100,000.  Other requirements apply if you want to use this simplified form.

2. Form 1040, U.S. Individual Tax Return

This is the basic IRS tax form most U.S. filers use for their annual tax return. You might have to use this form depending on your age, filing status and gross income. Even if you had no taxable income but are eligible for a tax refund or credit, this might be the correct form for you.

While this form is more complicated than Form 1040EZ, it allows you to itemize deductions as well as claim numerous expenses and tax credits.

3. Schedule A to Form 1040, Itemized Deductions

You might hear people say that some personal expenses are “deductible” from your gross income to potentially lower the amount of taxes you have to pay. That statement is true. And if your total deductible personal expenses are greater than the standard deduction amount set by the IRS, you can itemize them using Schedule A.

The schedule has seven categories of expenses, including charitable donations, medical expenses, and mortgage interest. Strict rules apply for calculating and claiming these deductions, however. In some cases, you might not be able to deduct the full amounts.

You also don’t have to complete every line of the schedule. If you don’t have expenses in a certain category, simply skip over it. Once you’re finished, your total deduction amount is then added to Form 1040.

If you had over $1,500 in taxable interest or ordinary dividends from your bank accounts and investments, you might have to file Schedule B to report the amounts.

Additionally, if you have any foreign bank or investment accounts or receive distributions from certain foreign trusts, you must report that information on this schedule. Once completed, these totals also transfer over to Form 1040.

5. Form 1099-INT, Interest Income

You might receive a Form 1099-INT from banks or other financial institutions if they paid you a certain amount of interest on your deposits. In many cases, you’ll have to pay tax on the interest the form lists and report it on your tax return.

All amounts listed on the form need to be added to your return. Additionally, you must prepare a Schedule B with the name of each payer and the amount of interest received if the total taxable interest is over that $1,500 threshold.

6. Schedule C to Form 1040, Profit or Loss From Business (Sole Proprietorship)

If you are self-employed, you may need to file Schedule C to report the gross profit or loss from your business. Categories of expenses include costs like insurance, travel, meals and entertainment, taxes, office supplies, wages, and other business-related items.

7. Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income

Self-employed people generally receive this form from each client that paid them throughout the year. It reports the total earnings received, and you must report that income on your tax return. As a freelancer or independent contractor, this form replaces a Form W-2 you receive working for a traditional employer.

Form 1099-MISC is also a catch-all for other types of income, such as prizes, awards, and fishing boat proceeds.

8. Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate

You don’t file Form W-4 with your annual tax return or send it to the IRS. Instead, you give it to your employer to instruct them on how much tax to withhold from your gross paycheck and remit to the taxing authorities. This form includes a worksheet to help you calculate the amount.

You file a new W-4 if you change employers. You can also file a new Form W-4 with your current employer if your circumstances change, for example, if you have a baby and want to claim an additional dependent.

9. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement

People often confuse Form W-4 and Form W-2.  Your employer gives you Form W-2 at the end of the calendar year to show the total amount of tax they withheld from your paychecks.

Your employer also provides a copy of the Form W-2 to the IRS, Social Security Administration and some state taxing authorities. These taxing entities match up the amounts you claim as income with the amounts your employer reports they paid you. Because your employer sends this form to the IRS, you do not need to file it with your tax return.

The Bottom Line

No matter which forms you need to file, always make sure you use the correct tax year versions. For example, during the 2018 tax season, file your tax forms for the 2017 tax year. Also, keep in mind your personal situation may change, and you might need to file more or fewer forms each year.

About Valerie Rind

Valerie Rind is the author of the award-winning book, “Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin.” With expertise in a broad range of personal finance and lifestyle topics, her work has been featured online in Time, Forbes, Fortune, MSN, U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, PBS Next Avenue, and her own website at ValerieRind.com.

During a hiatus from a corporate career, Rind worked for a housing authority where she created its pilot personal finance program for low-income individuals. She was one of the founding volunteer moderators for the myFICO community forum. Her social media links include Twitter and LinkedIn.