Tax season can be a daunting, especially if it’s your first time filing. Trust me, I know. I was lucky enough to have my dad by my side through every part time job and paid internship growing up, but suddenly 2015 rolled around, I was handed a W-2, and I panicked.
“What are taxes? Don’t I already pay them out of each paycheck? Wait, I have to pay more? No, wait — I get money back? Huh?”
It’s enough to make anyone call for backup.
You don’t have to wait until April 14 for your cry of “SOS” to be heard, though. We’ve compiled the top 10 tips for all of the tax season newbies (looking at you, Millennials…) to help ease the stress and get you the biggest number on that return check.
Call Your Parents
If they still claim you as a dependent, it will affect the way you file your own forms. (In case you were wondering, dependents are typically those under the age of 19 and full-time students under 24 years of age).
If you’ve got your own full-time job (congrats!) you’ll have to file independently. But at least this way, mom and dad can stay on deck in case you have any last minute questions.
Put Your Education To Good Use
Student loans wait for no one, as many of us learned just mere months after graduating from college. While you’ll still get that monthly bill, you can at least write off your accrued interest up to $2,500. Stay on the lookout for a form called the 1098-T from each lender to help you benefit — if only for one day — from those hefty loans.
Stick To Your Screen
To children of the technology age, this is sure to be the piece of advice that makes the most sense. Filing electronically makes the process faster, smoother and seamless (yes, some people really don’t file online). To speed up your tax return even more, sign up for a direct deposit right into your bank account, ensuring you’ll get your dollars as soon as your forms are processed.
Relocated? Use It To Your Advantage
Changing careers — or starting one — can can be costly, and many companies don’t foot the bill like they did for our parents back in the day. Lucky for us, job hunting expenses from business cards to cab fares, moving costs (if you moved at least 50 miles away) and even your home mortgage interest can be deducted. Don’t forget to factor those in.
Don’t Guess-timate Your Witholding
Instead, try to calculate it correctly the first time and take note of what you’re doing on your W-4 forms. Having the government withhold a large chunk throughout the year and getting a larger tax return can be a useful way to budget, but it’s also the equivalent of giving them a free loan. Decide what you’re comfortable with, hammer out an accurate budget, then fill out that W-4 accordingly.
Remember The Obvious (And Not-So-Obvious) Write-Offs
It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but keep track of all the good deeds you do throughout the year; they can add up to a pretty penny when April rolls around. From your latest Goodwill donation to that $20 you gave to the local PTA — heck, even work clothes — can all be written off on your tax forms.
Ask For Help
You know how the saying goes: “The only mistake you can make is not asking for help.” (Sandeep Jauhar). So set yourself up for success. If you have a question, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to call a trusted family member or hop on your email to get in touch with your employer. Better to get it right than have to go back and fix a mistake after the deadline has passed.
In addition to those trusted individuals, programs like TurboTax offer inexpensive or free programs to help guide you through the process of filing your taxes electronically. It’s just as effective as that CPA you were about to pay, but you still get to keep your arm and leg.
Stephanie Sharlow is a Marketing Coordinator for We-Care.com, building relationships with media professionals to share the incredible stories of the 800+ nonprofits that We-Care.com supports. She has always been dedicated to giving back, even founding a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for suicide prevention and awareness based out of her alma mater in 2011. Stephanie is a Media Fellow graduate of DePauw University, and lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @StephSharlow.