Gather your documents. Unless your situation consisted of a single W-2 and nothing else, you really don't want to wait until the last day to file to just start to look over your stuff, even if you expect to get a refund. In addition to your W-2, there is a whole ream worth of other documents you need to have both received and to fill out if you received taxable interest, took college classes, put money into a retirement plan, gave large sums away, had a good day at the casino, etc., so on, and so forth. Waiting until the last possible day to figure out that you're missing an interest statement is a losing strategy.
Get them prepped. If you've gathered all your documents, but aren't sure you want to brave the 1040 on your own, you do have plenty of other options to help you get done. The two major tax preparation assistance companies in this country are H&R Block and TurboTax. They are supposed to help you prepare your taxes for free if you earned under $57,000 AGI last year and both the computer and online versions of their software reflect that. You can also take your pile of papers into H&R stores to have them look over as well, something you cannot do with TurboTax. Of course, an accountant is always an options. But one place that might also be worth a look is a local college or university. It's primarily done by acccouting students, but is overseen by actual CPAs with experience. A local one to me offers free preparation to several select groups and is certainly better than having to pay.
File electronically. After you get your taxes prepared, it's time to get them filed. If at all possible, file your tax return electronically. Turnaround time to refund is drastically reduced. There's a smaller chance of error. E-filing is free. And an increasingly important reason, you want to get your return filed before someone else files one for you. In this digital era, no one's information is safe. (If you're reading this blog, then the chances are greatly increased that you are more vulnerable to unauthorized access to your information than the hermit who shuns technology. It's an unfortunate fact of life we have to now live with.)
Refund schmefund. You have plenty options for getting back your money, no matter how you file. You can get a direct deposit to your checking or savings account (or several), a good, old-fashioned check in the mail, US Savings Bonds, applying it towards future tax bills, or any combination of those. Pick your favorite when you file. After you file, whether online or by mail, you can track your status online and figure out exactly when you should expect to see the money back in your hand. First and foremost, make sure you are at the official IRS website for checking refunds found here. Although I have not seen or heard anything about them yet, I'm fairly certain that scammers may very well try to run phishing scams using bogus website fronts. Be vigilant.
So, there you have it. If you haven't started your taxes, this weekend presents quite an opportunity to do so and get the bulk of the work out the way. Like I said, getting caught at the deadline to find a laundry list of stuff to do just to file would be unfortunate. That will also be the exact same time that your internet decides to go down, making e-filing impossible and Starbucks will also be closed. You don't want that to happen. Au revoir!
Photo sourced from Tax Credits.