Tax Form BasicsReviewAdviceFAQ's

Tax Form Basics

The federal tax form you need depends on your filing status, financial condition and a host of other things that go from late filing and statute of limitation to deductions claimed and whether you have foreign investment accounts.

Basic federal income tax forms range from W-2 and 1099s to the miscellany of templates you use to notify the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about life events – such as moving, hospitalization, birth, child care and sale of home. To prepare your taxes, print, complete and send the Form 1040 via regular mail; file it online, typically for a fee; or barnstorm the offices of professionals like tax accountants, certified public accountants and enrolled agents.

Do I Need W-2 Forms?

You need a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, if you held a regular job during the preceding year. Your employer must complete an income tax Form W-2 if it paid you a salary, wages or other type of compensation that was inherent to the employment contract. The law requires the employer to send your W-2 by Jan. 31st. If you don't receive it by then, contact your company's human resources department or tax unit and ask for more information. Some organizations make the form available online.

Tax Form Basics

What are 1099 Forms and Why Would I Need Them?

The 1099 Form series covers a wide assortment of situations in which a taxpayer earned money during the year but didn't receive a Form W-2 to report the income. Examples of reportable transactions include cash paid to an independent contractor, or "nonemployee compensation," as the IRS calls it. Whether you need a Form 1099 depends on how much income you had during the year, the very nature of the transaction, and tax laws. Normally, the organization to which you provided services would know whether a Form 1099 is needed.

What Forms Do I Need for Deductions?

The IRS regularly updates deduction forms, so check with your accountant or seek more information on the agency's website. For example, if you're divorced or separated, you can claim innocent spouse relief or equitable relief, using Forms 8857 and 8332 Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents. To deduct charitable conditions, use Schedule A (Form 1040) Itemized Deductions and Form 8283 Noncash Charitable Contributions.

  • If you sold your house during the preceding year and made money on the transaction, use Schedule D (Form 1040) Capital Gains and Losses.
  • If you moved, use forms 3903 to deduct moving expenses and 8822 for a change of address.
  • By law, you also can deduct child care expenses, which run the gamut from child living costs to money spent on household employees and dependent care expenses. Use Form 2441, Schedule 2 (Form 1040A) Child and Dependent Care Expenses for Form 1040A Filers, Schedule H (Form 1040), or W-10.
  • Medical and dental expenses are deducted on Schedule A, provided they are more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

Should I Always Use Form 1040 to File My Taxes?

Yes. Or more specifically, it depends on your situation. There are variants of Form 1040 to suit each taxpayer's situation.

  • If you're a farmer or fisherman, use Form 1040-ES to estimate your tax liability.
  • Earning tips are reported on Form 1244.
  • Executors of trusts or estates use Form 1041-ES to estimate fiscal liability and Form 1041 for income return filing.
  • If you're a late filer – meaning you haven't send your tax documents to the IRS by April 15 – use Form 4868.
  • If you hired someone for household work during the preceding year, use Schedule H (with 1040) to estimate and pay employment taxes, and Form W-2 or 1099-MISC to report wage compensation or non-wage compensation.


Filing your tax return doesn't need to be a complicated process. Identify the irs tax form applicable to your situation and seek professional help if tax filing is not your strong suit or if you need help navigating the often complex IRS rules. You also can visit the agency's website for more information or use any company that provides free or paid online-filing tax software services.

Last Updated:

Join the discussion

Replying to Cancel

Your comment has been submitted and is awaiting approval from one of our administrators. Thank you for your readership!


Submitting your comment...

16 Great Money Saving Tips!

Cut expenses by $500+ a month. Download our FREE eBook today.

Download Now

Have you found our content useful?


Join our newsletter to receive the latest money saving advice, reviews, and offers!

YesI want to learn how to be a smart consumer!NoI'm not concerned about wasting money

100% privacy. We will never spam you.

Where should we mail you our
money saving advice, reviews & offers?

100% privacy. We will never spam you.

Adding your email to our mailing list.

Please wait just a moment

Your email has been added!

Thank you for signing up.


Looking for the best tax software?

We've researched and reviewed the top companies.

See Our Top 3

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.