Mike Valenti, CPA, CFP®, Director of Tax Planning
Tom Fridrich, JD, CLU, ChFC®, Senior Wealth Planner
It’s January, so it’s officially tax season! One of the most common client questions heard by tax preparers is, “So, what do you need from me?” The short answer to that question is often, “Everything.”
But that isn’t helpful, nor is it entirely true. Let’s dig into what your tax preparer needs from you to prepare your tax return efficiently and in a timely manner.
Communication Is Key
Your preparer should tell you when to expect the engagement letters, organizers, etc., and when they need all the information by to finalize or extend the return before the deadline. Adhering to their timeline and providing documents in the instructed manner (such as through a client portal or a secure drop box) will reduce any back and forth and minimize the chance that your preparer misses something you already provided.
If you’re asked to complete a questionnaire or organizer, there’s a reason why. Those two documents cover most, if not all, of what you will need to provide for your return to be complete and accurate.
Most of life’s major events have a tax impact, so it’s important to keep your preparer apprised. Marriage, divorce, births/adoptions, deaths, home purchases and sales, new business ventures and side hustles, and inheritances are a few examples of events that have tax consequences.
Documentation Needed for Your Tax Return
Any government-issued forms, such as W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, and K-1s, you receive are all reported to the IRS. If your return is missing information reported on one of these forms, the IRS and state taxing authorities will reconcile your return and issue notice adjusting the return to match what was reported. This can result in additional tax owed, plus penalties and interest.
Other information, such as business income and expenses, medical expenses, charitable contributions, and some tax strategies, is not reported to the IRS and sufficient records must be maintained.
Examples of income reported to the IRS:
- Form W-2
- Form 1099s from all sources, including:
- • Bank interest
- • Brokerage accounts
- • Stock dividends
- • Stock sales
- • Sale of real estate
- • Nonemployee business income/payments on the 1099-NEC
- • Social Security
- • Retirement account distributions and other retirement income
- • Cancellation of debt
- • Unemployment, state tax refunds, and other government payments
- • 529 distributions
- • Rents and royalties
- • Miscellaneous income
- Form K-1s from all sources, including:
- • Trusts
- • Partnerships
- • S Corporations
Examples of expenses and contributions reported to the IRS:
- Form 1098s from all sources, including:
- • Mortgage interest
- • Tuition
- • Student loan interest
- Form 5498s with retirement account information
Examples of information not reported to the IRS and require adequate record keeping:
- Business income and expenses
- Medical expenses
- Charitable contributions, including Donor Advised Funds and Qualified Charitable Distributions
- State and local tax payments, including real estate, personal property, and sales taxes
- Contributions to tax-advantaged accounts, including IRAs, 529s, and HSAs
- Tax basis for equity compensation transactions
For information not reported to the IRS – such as business income and expenses, charitable contributions, and medical expenses – it’s important to keep accurate and contemporaneous records. You’ll also want to keep any supporting documentation, such as receipts and transactions histories, as the IRS may ask you to support the number reported on the return.
However, you should provide the total number for each income and expense category to your preparer first and offer to provide supporting documentation if needed. For example, if you donate food to the local food pantry every week, you should keep physical or digital receipts of purchase and donation, but your preparer may be content with a summary of the donations and ask you to hold on to the receipts.
You should also track estimated tax payments. You might think that the IRS and states would be able to track payments accurately, but that is often not the case. Even if labeled properly, sometimes taxing authorities do not credit tax payments to the correct tax year, and matching errors occur. Keep a record of the payments, with payment confirmations and cancelled checks, and provide those to the preparer.
What If I Need to File an Extension?
For many taxpayers, not all the information is available to file a return by the April 15 deadline (March 15 for corporate and partnership filers). K-1s are a common reason for extending, as returns for entities issuing K-1s generally require additional time given the complexity of the return.
Sometimes life events make it impractical or too stressful to collect all the documents on time. It’s okay to extend if you need to do so. There is no penalty or downside to filing an extension. Once extended, the filing deadline for individual returns is October 15 (September 15 for corporate and partnership filers, September 30 for trusts and estates).
Please note that an extension is an extension of time to file the return, not to pay the tax due. The IRS still requires 100% of the total tax liability be paid or withheld by the April 15 deadline. This is an important distinction. Your preparer should be able to assist you in filing an extension and making the requisite payments.
Many preparers have a due date (usually mid-March) for you to provide documents in order to file the return before the April 15 deadline. If you think you may be unable to provide all your information by that date, talk to your preparer to determine whether an extension is appropriate.
Provide All the Documentation as Early as Possible
Most tax documents are issued in January. Brokerage account 1099s are typically available by mid-February. The quicker you can provide all the documents to your preparer, the earlier your return can be prepared.
Avoid sending documents one-by-one – sending all the documents at once to your preparer will allow them to start working on the return sooner. If you have all but one or two documents, ask your preparer for their preference as to when you should send in your tax documents.
Tax season is rarely fun, but a great working relationship with your tax preparer can reduce the stress caused by April 15.
For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.