Help an Aussie fill out her first US tax return.
March 13, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I have never completed a US tax return before I would love some suggestions on things to watch out for, hints and tips or most important of all links to websites with good beginners information for filing your own returns. More info follows.

I'm an Australian married to a US citizen and have lived in the US for over 3 years now and for the first time ever I am having to do our taxes. My husband and I file jointly and previously he has used Turbotax to do our returns and all I've had to do is hand my W2 to him and let him do all the hard work. This year he is working crazy hours so I get the job.

Our return is pretty simple and I am not afraid of forms & paperwork, I figure if I can successfully fill in all the immigration paperwork for Homeland Security without a lawyer I can do this. I am just worried I am going to miss something important as you use different names/terms for things here in the US.
posted by wwax to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a lot of deductions which will make it difficult? Normally taxes are pretty straight-forward (here's the data from my W2. Done.)
posted by zombieApoc at 9:08 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: Unless your taxes are crazy complicated, use TurboTax. It's virtually idiot-proof.
posted by gnutron at 9:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hope you use Turbotax again, on the same computer - that will instantly bring in what info it can from last year's program.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:15 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: We have a very basic tax return, income wise. Though my husband just reminded me I should have mentioned we bought a house this year.
posted by wwax at 9:22 AM on March 13, 2012

It is pretty straightforward, especially for simpler returns and TurboTax will be able to take care of anything without having you deal with the actual forms. You could probably use the free version (I think it's called Basic?) if you just have some W-2s and interest forms or the like. If you want more information on any deductions, or where anything should be reported, the has a ton of info. Check out the Form 1040 instructions for explanation or as a starting point. Google will also be helpful (obviously), just make sure you're looking at current (as in calendar year 2011) info if you're looking for a specific deduction or credit or something.
posted by jroybal at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: In the case of buying a home, there is specific section in TurboTax where you can enter info about mortgage interest paid, mortgage insurance paid, etc. and it will determine the best deduction for which you are eligible--standard or itemized. I think this homeowner stuff is part of the for-pay versions. (I'm talking about the online versions, not the downloadable apps, though I'm sure those are similar.)
posted by jroybal at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: wwax: "We have a very basic tax return, income wise. Though my husband just reminded me I should have mentioned we bought a house this year."

TurboTax can walk you through both aspects of this- any credits you may be entitled to as a first-time homeowner, and any deductions from your mortgage interest. As long as you have your various forms, it's very, very straightforward.
posted by mkultra at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2012

You'll be fine with Turbotax. The tax forms look scary at first, but unless you've got depreciation schedules, tons of deductions, or the like, they're actually very straightforward.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:16 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Echoing those advocating electronic tax software. Personally, I dislike TurboTax and prefer TaxAct, but that's personal preference and your mileage may vary. There are several other programs out there as well. What essentially all of them do is run you through an interview full of yes or no questions, and if the answer is yes, you will be prompted to enter information from certain boxes on your financial statements. It is much, much easier than filling out forms by hand and cross-referencing all the IRS documents to figure out whether or not you qualify for the such-and-such credit. All of the popular tax packages only cost $10-$30 for personal returns, which in my personal opinion is more than worth the value of my time figuring it out myself. Many of these programs will actually detect tax credits you are eligible for via the interview process, which could save you quite a bit of money.

The most important thing--with the online versions of TurboTax and TaxAct and others, you can actually do your whole tax return for free and only pay when it's time to print and file. Previous years when I had more time on my hands, I have done my tax return with both TurboTax and TaxAct to make sure I got the same answer (hint: I didn't...hence my preference for the latter). Given that it is free to try, I definitely recommend starting your return with tax software and if you get frustrated, you can always go back to doing it by hand.
posted by wondercow at 6:31 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We've used TurboTax and it's been fine--very easy and straightforward.

Don't forget to file your state taxes if you live in a state that has an income tax. TurboTax can help you with that, too.
posted by elizeh at 7:22 PM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: It seems the consensus is Turbotax. I am feeling much less worried that I'll miss something now. Thank you all for answers.
posted by wwax at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2012

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