Don't panic! A step-by-step guide to everything you need to know as Tax Day approaches

Calling all procrastinators: The deadline for filing and paying your taxes is fast approaching and you are running out of time.

We know, doing your taxes is as much fun as having a root canal or passing a kidney stone.

Are you feeling overwhelmed and unprepared? Don't panic. USA TODAY has more than 100 stories and videos offering all the latest news and tax advice. Here is everything you need to know in one easy place.

Get prepared: Tax forms and important papers


First things first: Start by collecting your personal information, going through all your important documents and getting paperwork lined up.

You will need everything that details all the income you received in 2016. For most, the W-2 form from your employer will be the key document you need.

Next you will need to make decisions about which of the three major tax forms (1040, 1040 EZ or 1040A) to use and then round up all the other forms you might need to support your return.

More help on getting prepared:

Your 2017 tax preparation checklist for what you need to file your taxes

Which form to use: The 1040, 1040 EZ or 1040A

10 IRS tax forms you need to know before you file 

Do it yourself, use software or pay a pro 

Once you have all your paperwork ready, the next major decision is do you want to prepare your tax return yourself, use tax software or just hand it all over to a tax professional.

The two biggest factors are cost and the complexity of your tax return. If you are filing the 1040 EZ form you might want to consider doing it yourself.

Tax software is readily available for less than $100. And if your adjusted gross income is less than $64,000, you can use tax software from the IRS that allows you do do your taxes for free.

Hiring a  tax professional can be expensive but if your tax return is complex and you need to file a lot of forms it might be worth it.

More on making this choice and free options:

Should you do your taxes yourself or hire a tax preparer?

3 questions to ask before hiring a tax professional

5 ways to save on preparing your taxes

9 ways to get free tax help from a human being

Take the standard deduction or itemize?

Taking the standard deduction is easier and quicker but for some people itemizing will allow you to receive a bigger reduction in the amount of tax you owe.

The standard deduction is $6,300 for single filers and $12,600 if you are married and filing jointly. It will make sense to itemize if you are able to claim more than those amounts.

About 70% of taxpayers use the standard deduction, according to the IRS.

More on taking the standard deduction or itemizing:

Which saves more? Itemizing or taking the standard deduction

How much can I save if I itemize my taxes?

Filing separately could give some couples a lower tax bill

Save money: Tax deductions and credits

Tax deductions and credits both help you save money if you itemize when filing your taxes.

A tax deduction is a dollar amount you claim that is subtracted from you adjustable gross income, which lowers the amount of tax you owe.

But a tax credit is even better because it's a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your taxes owed.

More on tax breaks:

Tax credits save you more than deductions: Here are the best ones

Here's how to find great tax breaks you might have missed

If you make $100,000 or more, here are 3 tax breaks you don't want to miss

Make less than $54K? Consider this underused tax break

There are all kinds of tax breaks that can help lower you taxes. Here are tax breaks that are available for:

•  Homeowners: 5 big tax breaks
•  Freelancers, independent contractors: 5 biggest tax breaks for the self-employed
•  Investors: 3 tax breaks investors should strongly consider
•  Parents: 10 tax breaks every parent needs to know

Some of the most asked questions of tax experts is can I deduct this item? Here are some answers to the question "Can I deduct":

•  Medical expenses
•  Medicare costs
•  Home improvement costs
•  Real estate taxes
•  Student loans
•  Phone and Internet bills
•  Work clothes
•  Fantasy football losses

Beware of these mistakes

If you are rushing to get your taxes done, mistakes are more likely to happen. And the last thing you want is unwanted attention being drawn to your tax return.

Be sure to check your tax return for:

9 common tax errors people make

11 big tax mistakes to avoid

Lower your chances of getting audited

Your chances of getting audited by the Internal Revenue Service are pretty low: Last year the audit rate dropped to 0.7%, thec lowest sine 2003.

But certain situations and certain deductions can increase your odds.

3 IRS red flags that could lead to a tax audit

Some taxpayers face a greater chance of attracting IRS scrutiny

3 tax deductions that increase the chances of an audit 

Tax refund

Once you file and you are getting a tax refund, your next question is: When will I get it?

The fastest way to get your refund is to e-file your tax return and use direct deposit. And once you get it you might be tempted to go on a shopping spree, but that might not be the best use of the funds.

5 ways to avoid blowing your tax refund

How to make sure someone doesn't steal your tax refund

How to get your tax refund as quickly as possible

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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