What Documents Do I Need to File My Taxes?

Collect these documents before you start your return

A woman prepares taxes on a laptop computer, with a pile of tax documents she has gathered strewn across a desk.
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Drakula & Co. / Getty Images

The challenge of gathering everything you need to file your annual tax return can be either minimal and yawn-worthy or aggravating and time-consuming. How you feel about doing your taxes can depend on your financial situation. You can probably yawn if you’re single, rent your home, and work one job, but you’ll have to dedicate some time to the filing process if you’re married, are a single parent with at least one of your children living at home, have investments, are self-employed, or work multiple jobs.

Each of the latter scenarios will require gathering multiple documents.

We’ve created a checklist you can download and print to help you find and gather the information and documents you’ll need when filing your taxes.

Income Documents

The Internal Revenue Service already knows how much income you brought in last year; it just wants you to confirm it on your tax return. Anyone who paid you more than $600 over the course of the year is required to file an information return with the IRS reporting those payments, usually no later than Jan. 31 of the ensuing year. That threshold is just $10 in the case of royalty income or broker payments. 

You should receive a copy of these forms to assist you in preparing your tax return.

These information returns come in a variety of forms, depending on the type of income you received. You’ll get a Form W-2 from your employer or employers if you worked a regular job. If you had multiple employers during the year, you’ll receive one from each of them. This form details your earnings and how much in the way of income tax was withheld from your pay and sent to the IRS on your behalf.

Form 1099-NEC cites how much income you earned in a nonemployee capacity if you received payment for any work you did or services you performed as an independent contractor or sole proprietor. 

There are several other types of 1099 forms as well. You might require and receive any of these income forms, depending on the source of your income:  

  • Form W-2: Income earned from employment
  • Form W-2G: Gambling winnings (dependent on the type of gambling, as well as the amount of winnings and ratio of winnings to wager)
  • Form 1099-NEC: Income earned from self-employment
  • Form 1099-MISC: Income earned from “miscellaneous” sources, such as royalties, broker payments, rents, prizes, share of fishing boat proceeds, and awards 
  • Form 1099-C: Canceled or forgiven debt
  • Form 1099-DIV: Dividend income
  • Form 1099-INT: Interest income
  • Form 1099-G: Income received from the government, such as unemployment compensation
  • Form 1099-R: Withdrawals of $10 or more from an employer-sponsored retirement plan
  • Form SSA-1099: Social Security income
  • Form RRB-1099: Income from railroad retirement benefits 

Reach out to the entity that paid you, or to your employer in the case of a Form W-2, if you received income from any of these sources and did not receive a corroborating information return. You can request copies from the IRS as well.

Documents That Support Tax Deductions 

Identifying the documents you’ll need to claim certain tax deductions can be an arduous process. Ideally, you’ve been collecting them all year long as you paid certain expenses. 

It’s not necessary to provide your receipts to the IRS unless you’re audited, but you’ll need them to ascertain how much you can claim for various deductions, and you’ll want to keep them on hand just in case. While you can take the easy way out and simply claim the standard deduction for your filing status, you’ll have to know how much you spent on qualifying expenses if you decide to itemize instead. Common itemized deductions include charitable giving, state and local property and income taxes, medical expenses, and health insurance.

A full list of available itemized deductions appears on Schedule A, which you must complete and submit with your tax return if you elect to itemize.

Above-the-Line Adjustments to Income

You don’t have to itemize to claim above-the-line deductions, technically called adjustments to income. You can claim these on Schedule 1 with your tax return and also claim the standard deduction or the total of your itemized deductions. You’ll typically receive a Form 1098 for these expenses. Common 1098 forms include:

  • Form 1098: For mortgage interest paid on a qualifying home loan
  • Form 1098-E: For interest paid on student loans
  • Form 1098-T: For tuition you paid 

Payees are usually required to issue these forms to you and the IRS if you make payments of $600 or more.

You’ll also want a record of any and all contributions you made to retirement accounts, because these are generally deductible up to certain caps. Educator expenses of up to $250 per year are deductible above the line for certain teachers, for example, so you’ll want corroborating proof of what you spent in this regard, if you qualify. IRS Schedule 1 shows the full list of available adjustments to income. 

Self-Employment Income 

Keeping receipts is particularly important if you have 1099-NEC income as an independent contractor. If this is the case, you can deduct a variety of your business expenses on Schedule C if they’re considered “ordinary and necessary” to doing business. Again, you don’t have to submit these records to the IRS, but you’ll want the documentation on hand to support them and to prepare your Schedule C.   

Documentation for Claiming Tax Credits

Tax credits are more advantageous than deductions, because they subtract directly from what you owe the IRS, whereas claiming tax deductions can only reduce your taxable income.

Claiming some tax credits will require that you receive a Form 1098 for the paid expenses, most notably those that are available for education. Prior to tax season, you’ll want to keep detailed records of what you spend so you can support claiming other credits. Some tax credits are supported by your income documentation and your tax return. 

Tax credits that are available for the 2020 tax year include: 

  • Adoption Credit: For a portion of expenses you paid to adopt a qualifying child.
  • American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credit: For qualifying educational expenses for you, your spouse, or your dependents, reported to you and to the IRS on Form 1098-T.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit: For expenses you paid for care by another individual for your child or disabled dependents so you could go to work, look for a job, or attend school. You’ll need the care provider’s tax identification number or Social Security number.
  • Child Tax Credit and the Credit for Other Dependents: For each individual you can claim as a dependent on your tax return.
  • Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled: For those age 65 or older or retired on permanent or total disability.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit: For low- and middle-income taxpayers. (Income limits apply.)
  • Recovery Rebate Credit: For economic stimulus payments you were entitled to receive in 2020 but did not.
  • Saver’s Credit: For contributions made to qualifying retirement plans.

What to Bring to an Accountant for Tax Prep

You’ll need all this information and documentation whether you prepare your tax return yourself or if you decide to use a tax professional. The difference with the professional is that you’ll have to take all pertinent information with you to your appointment or gather it together in advance to send through fax or electronically. You’ll also need some additional documentation if you’re using a tax professional for the first time.

Your tax preparer will require identifying information for you, your spouse (if you’re married), and your qualifying dependents, if applicable. This means Social Security cards, although you can typically take a copy of your most recent year’s tax return instead. This will detail all your identifying information, unless you’ve since acquired another dependent who wasn’t listed on that return. 

Of course, you won’t have to bring all of this with you if you’re using the same professional you’ve used before. They’ll already have everything at their fingertips.

It’s a good idea to take your previous year’s tax return with you to meet a tax professional, even if you have Social Security cards for everyone in your family. This should give your tax preparer an accurate picture of your personal tax situation, in addition to the identifying information it includes. 

You’ll probably also need a photo ID and dates of birth for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents if you don’t have a previous year’s tax return. Be sure to bring the account and routing numbers for your bank account if you choose direct deposit for any refund to which you’re entitled. And don’t neglect proof of any confirming documentation for things that have changed, such as if you’ve purchased a home in the past year.

You might need a wheelbarrow to hold all this paperwork, but it will be worth it if your tax situation is complex enough that it requires a great deal of documentation.