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How to File Your Taxes This Year: 6 Simple Steps

Does the thought of filing your taxes make you break out in hives? Stop stressing! Our easy, step-by-step guide will help you prepare your taxes without even breaking a sweat.

Most people dread taxes because of all the paperwork involved. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way! Preparing your taxes can actually be a simple, no-stress process. All it takes is some organization and time.

Step 1: Determine if You Need to File

First things first. Do you even have to file taxes? Good question. It depends on a few different factors:

  • Age: As far as filing taxes goes, the IRS has different income requirements for people under 65 than for people 65 and older. Uncle Sam also makes a distinction on whether you’re blind or not.
  • Income: There’s a set gross income amount you can make before you have to file taxes, and that amount depends on your age and filing status. We’ll go over those exact numbers in the charts below.
  • Filing status: Do you plan to file as single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)? The minimum income requirements are different depending on which status you qualify for. We’ll help you decide which filing status you should choose later on.
  • Dependent status: Can someone claim you as a dependent? If so, that’ll also affect how much your gross income can be before you have to file.

Yeah, it’s a bit complicated, so here’s a breakdown of minimum gross income amounts for filing a tax return for 2023 (due April 15, 2024):

Filing Status

Under 65

65 or Older




Married Filing Jointly

Both spouses under 65: $25,900

One spouse under 65 and one spouse 65 or older: $27,300

If both spouses are 65 or older: $28,700

Married Filing Separately



Head of Household



Qualifying Widow(er)



As you can see, the minimum income requirements for filing vary according to your age and filing status. This amount is your gross income, which means the total taxable income you get—whether it’s money, goods, services or properties. That includes the sale of your main home and income you’ve made from sources outside of the U.S.2

What if You Are Being Claimed as a Dependent?

If someone else claims you as a dependent on their tax return, the rules for determining your minimum income to file change a bit. Your age and filing status are still factored in, but the IRS also considers the type of income you receive—earned or unearned.

Earned income is exactly what it sounds like—it’s money you earned or worked for. That includes things like salaries, tips and wages. 

Unearned income, on the other hand, is money made from sources outside of the work you do. Think things like investment income, unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits or interest from a savings account.

Here’s how those minimum gross income amounts break down for those of you who are being claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return:

Filing Status

Age as of December 31, 2023

File a Return If:


Under 65

  • Earned income was more than $12,950
  • Unearned income was more than $1,150
  • Gross income was more than whichever of these totals is bigger: $1,150 or your earned income (up to $12,550) plus $400


65 or older

  • Earned income was more than $14,700
  • Unearned income was more than $2,900
  • Gross income was more than whichever of these totals is bigger: $2,900 or your earned income (up to $12,550) plus $2,150


65 or older and blind

  • Earned income was more than $16,450
  • Unearned income was more than $4,650
  • Gross income was more than whichever of these totals is bigger: $4,650 or your earned income (up to $12,550) plus $3,900

Married Filing Jointly

Under 65

  • Combined earned income was more than $12,950
  • Combined unearned income was more than $1,150
  • Combined gross income was more than whichever of these totals is bigger: $1,150 or your earned income (up to $12,550) plus $400

As you can see, these gross income amounts differ for dependents, whether over or under age 65. So, heads up if you’re a dependent who’s being claimed on someone else’s tax return this year.  

Don’t settle for tax software with hidden fees or agendas. Use one that’s on your side—Ramsey SmartTax.

Once you add up all your total gross income, you can figure out if you’re one of the lucky millions who has to pay their dues to the IRS. Then it’s time to see just how organized you’ve been throughout the tax year. That’s right—bring on the paperwork!

Step 2: Gather Your Tax Documents

To do your taxes, you need to collect all of the tax documents you have to report on your return. Think of it as a scavenger hunt if that makes it a little more fun! What forms will you need? Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • W-2s
  • 1099s
  • Mortgage interest statements
  • Investment income statements
  • Charitable contribution statements and receipts

And if you’ve gone through any major life changes in the last year—maybe you got married or moved to a new address—you might have to do some extra paperwork. To keep your tax prep running smoothly, here are a few more documents you may need to add to your list:

  • Form 8822 (to change your address if you moved)
  • SS-5 (if you changed your name)
  • W-4 (to adjust tax withholdings based on your new household income)

Income and investment interest forms should’ve been mailed or sent electronically to you by the end of January, so keep an eye out for those documents. You can also find and download many of these documents yourself through your bank, mortgage provider or payroll company.

If you started a new side gig or small business this year to help pay off debt or save for a down payment on a mortgage, congrats—you’re crushing it! Unfortunately, income from those side hustles is taxable, so be on the lookout for 1099 forms in the mail.

A 1099 form records any payments you receive throughout the year from a person or entity other than your employer. They can also report other types of earnings, like royalties, prizes, awards, rent and lottery winnings. Here are three of the most common 1099 forms you might get if you’re working a side gig:

  • 1099-K: This form shows all the payments you received for your small business or side hustle through a debit or credit card or some other electronic payments system (think Venmo or PayPal). 
  • 1099-NEC: This shows how much money you made as an independent contractor. Independent contractors work for one or more companies and don’t receive benefits or have payroll taxes withheld from their checks. 
  • 1099-MISC: This form is the catchall for most of the miscellaneous income you earned outside of what’s documented on a W-2, 1099-NEC or a 1099-K.

If you still haven’t received your tax statements or can’t find them online, call the necessary people to be sure you receive your paperwork as soon as possible so you can get your taxes done.

Afraid of forgetting a document you’ll need for the upcoming deadline? To help you get all your ducks in a row, download our free tax preparation checklist.

Step 3: Pick a Filing Status

Your filing status helps you figure out what you’ll need to do to file, what your standard deduction is, your eligibility for certain credits, and how much you’ll owe in taxes.

There are times when picking your filing status is pretty straightforward—like if you’re single—and other times when you might qualify for more than one filing status and it’s not so clear.

So, how do you figure out which filing status to pick? There are five different statuses to choose from:

  • Single: If you’re divorced, legally separated, or not married, you’ll file as a single taxpayer. Simple enough, right? And if you were widowed before the tax year, you’ll probably file as single. 
  • Married filing jointly: File under this status if you’re married and both of you agree to file a joint return. In most cases, married couples save more by filing jointly. 
  • Married filing separately: If you’re married and for some reason don’t agree to file jointly—maybe you want to be responsible for your taxes only or filing separately results in a lower tax bill—you can use this filing status. 
  • Head of household: This one’s a little tricky. To qualify, you must have paid for more than half of the household expenses for the year, be unmarried, and have a qualifying child or dependent. So if you’re a single parent or taking care of an ailing family member, you might qualify to file as head of household. 
  • Qualifying widow(er): If your spouse dies and you don’t remarry in the same tax year, you can file jointly with your deceased spouse. For up to two years after your spouse’s death, you can use the qualifying widow(er) filing status if you’re still unmarried and live with a qualifying dependent.4

In most cases, folks will either file as single taxpayers or married filing jointly. But there are some rare instances where you might consider filing separately or under another filing status if it applies—so always do the math.

Step 4: Choose Between the Standard Deduction or Itemizing

When you file your taxes, you have two choices: Take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions. This is a pretty big deal, because tax deductions lower your taxable income—and the lower your taxable income is, the smaller your tax bill will be!

So, how do you decide which option to take? Well, the standard deduction for the 2023 tax year (the taxes you’ll file in 2024) is $14,600 for individuals and $29,200 for married filing jointly.5 

If your individual deductions add up to more than that for the year, you’re better off itemizing. If not, save yourself the hassle of digging through filing cabinets for old receipts and just take the standard deduction. 

Choosing between the standard deduction and itemizing can have a big impact on how much you may owe Uncle Sam or how much he owes you. But if you’re still unsure about which deduction to take, don’t worry! A tax pro will be able to answer your questions about itemizing and guide you in your decision.

Online tax software can also walk you through deciding between the standard deduction and itemizing. We recommend Ramsey SmartTax—it’s affordable, easy to navigate, and there are no hidden fees to worry about.

Yep, tax deductions can help big time when it comes to keeping more of your hard-earned money, but it’s not just deductions that online tax software and a tax pro can help you navigate. They can also help you determine which tax credits you might qualify for. Tax credits cut your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Let’s say you have a tax bill of $2,000, for example. A $400 tax credit would lower your bill to $1,600. Not too shabby!

A lot of tax credits are linked to your age, filing status, income or whether you can claim any dependents. Here are a few of the more common credits geared toward people with dependents (whether those dependents are children or adults):

  • Earned income tax credit (EITC): This is a refundable credit designed to give you a break if your income is low to moderate, especially if you have children. Depending on your income, how many children you have, and your filing status, the EITC could save you anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than $6,500!6
  • Child tax credit: If you have a child you’ve claimed as a dependent, you may qualify for this credit. For 2023, you can get a maximum tax credit of $2,000 for each qualifying child under age 17—with an income limit of $400,000 for married couples and $200,000 for individuals.7 Nice!
  • Child and dependent care credit: Let’s face it—childcare can be crazy expensive. But Uncle Sam offers this credit to try to offset some of those costs. If you have to pay for the care of children, elderly parents, or other dependents who can’t take care of themselves, you might qualify for the child and dependent care credit. For 2023, it’s 20–35% (depending on your taxable income) of up to $3,000 for one qualifying dependent and $6,000 for two qualifying dependents.8 For example, if you and your spouse file jointly, make over $43,000 combined, and have two children, the most you could be credited is 20% of $6,000, which is $1,200.

These credits are great tax breaks for people who have child or adult dependents. But if you don’t have dependents to claim on your taxes, don’t sweat it—check with a tax pro to see if you qualify for any other credits.

Step 5: Choose How to File

So, you’ve gathered your paperwork, decided on your filing status, and calculated whether you should itemize or take the standard deduction. That’s great! Now you’re ready to actually file your taxes. You can either self-file using online tax software, or you can reach out to a tax professional and let them handle all the paperwork and file for you.

According to the IRS, about 50% of Americans hired a professional to help them file their tax returns and 43% self-filed using tax software in 2021.9 The other 7% went old school and mailed in paper returns.

But which filing option should you choose? Here’s a general rule of thumb for choosing between your online versus tax pro filing options:

Online software can be straightforward if your situation is simple. So if you’re comfortable putting in some extra time filing yourself, give online tax software a try! And if you get halfway through the process and realize you’d feel more comfortable letting an expert handle your return, you can always change direction midstream and contact a tax pro. You won’t have to pay a dime using tax software until you’re actually ready to either print your return (to file by mail) or file it electronically.

But if your tax return is more complicated—like if you own a business or feel stressed about all the forms and paperwork—it’s worth it to hire a tax professional who knows the ins and outs of all things taxes.

Step 6: File Your Taxes

After you decide whether to use online tax software or reach out to a tax pro, it’s time to . . . wait for it . . . file your taxes. Woo-hoo! You’ve done all the prep work, so let’s finish this thing. First let’s go over the basics of filing online:

File Your Taxes With Online Tax Software

If you decide to use tax software to file, the first thing to do is choose which tax software you want to use. Again, we recommend Ramsey SmartTax because it’s easy to use, always up to date, and offers built-in support if you need a little extra help during the process.

Once you choose your software, here’s what you can expect as you go through the filing process:

  • Choose a filing plan. Any tax software you choose will offer different filing plans with different features (for example, Ramsey SmartTax offers two plans: Federal Classic and Federal Premium), so take a minute and see which plan best fits your tax situation.
  • Answer questions about yourself and your tax situation. Once you choose a plan, your software will walk you through some basic questions about yourself and your financial situation, starting with your name, address, date of birth and occupation. You’ll need to pick a filing status— single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately or qualifying widow(er). Then you’ll answer questions about whether certain situations apply to you (like if you moved to a different state this year or plan on filing any dependents).
  • Fill out your federal tax return. This is when you’ll want to have all your tax forms (like your W-2, 1099 forms, or Schedule C forms) organized and ready to go. Using these forms, you’ll answer questions about the money you earned throughout the year. The software will also walk you through the available tax deductions and tax credits to hopefully lower your tax bill!
  • Fill out your state income tax return. When you finish with your federal taxes, the tax software will transfer your information to your state return (if you live in one of the lucky states that has state income taxes) automatically. If your state doesn’t have a state income tax, hurray! You can skip this step.
  • Review your info and print your return. Before you send your return to the IRS, make sure you take a few minutes to review everything. We recommend printing a copy of returns each year for your records.
  • E-file your return and choose a payment method. The final step? E-file your return through the tax software. And if you end up owing Uncle Sam, choose how to make your payments. Don’t worry! Your tax software will guide you through all your payment options. 

If this sounds a bit overwhelming, just remember you can hit the brakes at any point in the process—you won’t pay for anything until you’re ready to e-file.

We’ve gone over everything you need to know about filing with tax software, but what if you’d rather reach out to a tax expert and let them handle it?

File Your Taxes With a Tax Professional

Working with a tax expert can save you the hassle of dealing with all those forms and can probably save you some time too!

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re filing with a tax expert:

  • Pick a tax pro who’s qualified and has the heart of a teacher. What should you look for in a tax pro? Start with the obvious: Are they qualified as an Enrolled Agent (EA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? Both EAs and CPAs go through training, testing, and continuing education to maintain their credentials and stay up to date on tax laws and regulations.

    You also want to find someone who has the heart of a teacher. They ask you questions about your financial goals, make time to answer your questions, and can be trusted with your information. Yep, someone who’s qualified, trustworthy and a good teacher—that’s who you’re looking for. Someone like a RamseyTrusted tax pro.
  • Meet to discuss your tax situation. Your tax pro will want to meet with you in person or online to ask questions and get a grasp on your tax situation. They’ll start with simple stuff like your contact info, but they’ll also ask you questions about your filing status, if you can claim any dependents, and whether you’re self-employed or have any side gigs.
  • Provide your tax pro with your paperwork and tax forms. To speed up the process for your tax pro, make sure you have all your paperwork (tax forms, receipts, a copy of last year’s return) in order. Your tax pro will probably want to look at any tax-related paperwork you can bring.
  • Your tax pro will prepare and file your return. This is the best part about using a tax pro—they’ll plug all your numbers and information into your tax return and complete it so you don’t have to! And when they finish, they’ll be able to answer any questions you have about how much you owe or how much you’re getting back. And they can look for ways for you to save money on next year’s taxes.

Get Started on Filing Today

See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? With a little time and energy focused on these six steps, you’ll be set. Plus, you’ll eliminate the stress and worry if you’re organized on the front end.

If you decide to streamline the process and avoid potential tax filing mistakes, our nationwide network of RamseyTrusted tax pros can help. These tax experts will guide you through the process of filing.

Find a tax professional who serves your area today!

If you’re comfortable doing your own taxes with tax software, check out Ramsey SmartTax powered by TaxSlayer. It’s simple, Ramsey-approved tax software that’ll help you file your return with zero surprise fees.

Federal Classic Includes:

  • All major income types and federal forms

  • Prepare, print and e-file

  • Phone and email support

  • 1 year of audit assistance

Get Started With Ramsey SmartTax

Federal Premium Includes:

Everything in Classic plus:

  • Live chat

  • Priority phone and email help

  • Free financial coaching session

  • 3 years of audit assistance

Get Started With Ramsey SmartTax

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Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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