The standard Form 1040 (the “long form”) is the basic form used by United States citizens and residents to report their personal income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). There are simpler versions available for people with simple tax situations, but people that seek to minimize the amount they owe, or maximize the size of their refund, generally use the standard Form 1040.
Filling out these forms correctly can be a real challenge for people and there are significant consequences to failing to do so properly; which is why there is an entire industry devoted to preparing other people’s taxes, from simple returns for people to incredibly complex ones for corporations and serious investors.
Professional tax preparation services can be quite costly; so many people opt to prepare their own taxes. Believe it or not, the Form 1040 Instructions are very comprehensive and do provide all the information needed to prepare your own taxes if you are willing to take the time to go through them very carefully and in a step-by-step fashion.
While simple line by line instructions comes with the basic forms, to find the full, comprehensive instructions the best option is to go online. At the IRS website you can find the full, comprehensive guide to the Form 1040 and all its related schedules. Basic Form 1040 instructions come in a PDF file and comprise one hundred and two pages of detailed information.
Despite the fact that this may sound overwhelming, most people only use a small amount of this information in filing their personal income tax returns. Every single line, check box, and blank is described in detail in the Form 1040 instructions and in many cases examples are provided as well.
Although the task may seem daunting at first glance, most of the instructions are fairly simple and easy to understand, so it really is more a matter of taking your time and being patient. However, if you are willing to take your time and just go step-by-step, the Form 1040 instructions make it quite easy to prepare your own taxes.
More often than not, the people that need to report the complex income streams in the additional schedules and supplementary forms are well off enough to hire someone else to do it all for them. As for the basic two page long form document, most reasonably intelligent people can take care of it themselves if so inclined.
The real key is to go in sequence, not to jump ahead or fill out parts of the form based on the “conventional wisdom” meaning of the terms described. Instead read everything carefully to ensure that you and the IRS mean the same thing when describing basic terms like “dependents” or “earned income”.
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