Here’s How To Fill Out IRS Form 1040

If you’ve ever filed a federal income tax return in the U.S., chances are you used IRS Form 1040. This is the form used by most people to file a personal income tax return, report the income they received during the year, and figure out how much of that income is taxable after claiming tax deductions and credits.

Depending on the type of income, deductions, and credits you claim, completing Form 1040 may be simple or extremely complicated. This overview will help guide you through the basics of filling out Form 1040.

Where to Find Form 1040

The IRS offers a PDF version of Form 1040 that you can fill out manually, but don’t go looking for the 2021 version — the one you’ll use to file your tax return in 2022 — just yet. The 2021 Form 1040 is still in draft form and probably won’t be finalized until mid-January 2022. This gives Congress time to make last-minute changes to tax law and gives the IRS time to update tax forms to reflect those changes.

To fill out Form 1040, you can also:

  • Use the IRS’s Free File Fillable Forms (available from mid-January until mid-October)
  • Pick up copies of tax forms at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (currently available only by appointment)
  • Request copies by calling 1-800-829-3676 (available Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time)
  • Use one of the popular tax software programs like TurboTax, TaxAct, or H&R Block

No matter which method you choose, tax forms typically aren’t available until mid-January.

How to Fill Out Form 1040

Before getting started, gather all your tax documents, including your W-2s, 1099s, and other records of your income and deductions. From there, you can take Form 1040 step-by-step.

Step 1: Fill In Your Basic Information

The first half of Form 1040 asks some basic questions about your filing status, identification, contact information, and dependents.

When entering your name and the names of your spouse and dependents, be sure to enter them exactly as they appear on their Social Security cards. Using a nickname or married name (when you haven’t formally updated your name with the Social Security Administration) can result in your tax return being rejected for electronic filing and processing delays for paper returns.

Step 2: Report Your Income

The next few lines of Form 1040 provide lines for reporting several different sources of income, including:

  • Wages (found on your W-2)
  • Interest and dividends
  • Retirement income from IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions, and Social Security

If you have any other sources of taxable income, such as income from a business, rental property, farm or unemployment compensation, you’ll also need to attach Schedule 1 to your Form 1040.

Schedule 1 is also where you’ll report adjustments to income, also known as “above the line deductions.” They include things like contributions to a health savings account or self-employed retirement plan, health insurance premiums for self-employed people, and the student loan interest deduction.

Check out the IRS Form 1040 Instructions for more information on the types of income and adjustments that go on Schedule 1.

Subtracting adjustments to income from your total income will give you your adjusted gross income (AGI), which goes on line 11 of your Form 1040.

Step 3: Claim Your Deductions

When you file Form 1040, you can choose between itemizing or claiming the standard deduction. Most filers choose the standard deduction, but if your total itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction for your filing status, you can itemize by completing Schedule A and attaching it to your Form 1040.

Itemized deductions include:

  • Medical and dental expenses
  • State and local taxes
  • Mortgage interest
  • Gifts to charity
  • Casualty losses (losses relating to your home, vehicles or personal property caused by a federally declared disaster)

Even if you don’t itemize, you can deduct up to $300 of cash contributions made to qualifying charities during 2021 ($600 if married filing jointly) on line 12b of Form 1040.

If you own a pass-through business, you may also benefit from claiming the Qualified Business Income Deduction on line 13.

Your AGI, minus all available deductions, is your taxable income, which goes on line 15 of Form 1040.

Step 4: Calculate Your Tax

You’ll calculate your tax on the second page of Form 1040. The Form 1040 Instructions include tables for help with the calculations, but tax software (or a qualified tax professional) can handle that for you.

There are a handful of other taxes you might need to pay, including:

The Form 1040 Instructions provide more details on these taxes and how to report them on Schedule 2.

Step 5: Claim Tax Credits

If you have dependents, you may claim the child tax credit or the credit for other dependents. To claim these credits, attach Form 2441 or Schedule 8812 (if you are claiming the additional child tax credit) to your Form 1040.

Other credits go on Schedule 3, including:

Subtract those credits (and any taxes you’ve already paid for the year) from your calculated tax. The result is either a refund or the amount you owe for the year.

Once you’ve completed and signed your tax return, you can file Form 1040 electronically or print and mail it to the address shown in the Form 1040 Instructions.

Sounds simple, right? For many taxpayers, it’s not. There may be several additional forms and schedules you need to file with Form 1040. For that reason, it’s a good idea to either work with a qualified tax professional or use tax preparation software that will ask questions and help you select and complete the right forms.

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