What Are Internal Revenue Service Forms?

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Filing your taxes can get extremely complicated; understanding what you need to report, when to do so, and how much time you’ll need to spend preparing your return can confuse even the sharpest minds. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publishes a variety of forms to help taxpayers compile and report necessary information related to their taxes. While these forms can make your taxes easier to understand, there’s also a wide variety of them out there — and it’s important to know which ones you actually need if you’re trying to streamline your filing process.

Some forms are for personal use to make filing your taxes easier. Others need to be filed with your taxes, and some are designed for you to submit directly to your employer. Each form has a specific purpose and incorporates different types of information, depending on who needs it. Here, we’ll discuss what these forms are, how to use them and what to know about some of the most common IRS forms you’ll encounter.

What Are IRS Forms For?

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IRS forms are fillable documents that you use to track your financial activities or report them to the federal government. Their overall purpose is to provide the IRS with the correct financial information needed to calculate what you owe in taxes (or whether you’re due a refund after filing). Dozens of IRS forms exist to meet a variety of needs, but, depending on your financial situation, you likely won’t need to use more than a few each time you file. Below are some simple descriptions of the most common tax forms you can expect to encounter.

Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) is used to report your annual income. You’ll submit this form to the IRS when you file taxes. Form 1099 (Miscellaneous Income) and all of its schedules are used to report income that doesn’t come from a job with regular wages or a salary. This might include work you did for a company as a self-employed contractor, income you earn from rent or investments, or money you won as a prize.

If you earn income that isn’t automatically taxed, such as income from freelancing, you can use Form 1040-ES (Estimated Tax for Individuals) to calculate the amount of your earned income you’ll likely owe to the IRS in taxes. Many freelancers and others use this form for their quarterly tax filings.

Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Certificate) is a form that you submit to your employer. It allows you to identify the number of dependents you’re claiming for tax purposes and determine the money you want withheld from your paychecks for taxes. The details on this form allow your employer to determine how much federal income tax money to withhold from your paycheck. They may enter these details into payroll software to calculate federal income tax deductions every pay period.

Form W-9 (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification) provides an employer your Taxpayer Identification Number so they can use that to correctly identify you when they make certain payments to the IRS. If you need an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), you’ll submit Form W-7 (Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) to the IRS. If you don’t have a Social Security number, such as if you’re undocumented or a permanent resident, you need an ITIN to file your taxes.

Form 4506-T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return) is a form that you submit to the IRS so you can receive a tax transcript. This is a detailed accounting of a tax return you’ve previously filed, and you may need it for personal review or to submit as proof for an income-based application, such as SNAP benefits.

Form W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) is an annual accounting of all funds your employer paid to you in a calendar year. The employer provides you with three copies of the form, and they file another copy of the form with the IRS. You’ll keep one copy for your records, file one copy for state taxes if needed and file the third copy for federal taxes.

Forms in the 1095 series relate to individual health insurance coverage. For example, Form 1095-B provides details about the amount of government subsidy that was applied to your health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

If you owe more taxes than you can afford to pay, you can establish a payment arrangement with the IRS. Form 9465 (Installment Agreement Request) is the form you’ll use to do so.

IRS Form Schedules and Series

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Individual tax situations can be more complicated than a single form can account for. That’s why there are several versions of common forms. For example, Form 1099 branches out into Form 1099-NEC and Form 1099-MISC, each of which addresses more specific tax situations.

Other IRS tax form schedules and series have different uses but involve a similar topic. For example, Forms 1095-A, 1095-B and 1095-C all relate to health insurance, but different entities fill them out, depending on how a taxpayer receives health insurance.

To decide whether it’s necessary to use a certain schedule or series of a standard tax form, start off with the most basic version of the document, and carefully read the instructions. The IRS makes forms user-friendly. Many forms have clear verbiage with directives to alert you to additional forms you may need to submit. For example, Form-1040 directs taxpayers to attach a Schedule C of the form if they need to report tax-exempt interest or qualified dividends from investments.

How to Use Internal Revenue Service Forms

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Instructions and PDF downloads of all IRS forms are available at the IRS website, irs.gov. Libraries, post offices and Taxpayer Assistance Centers maintain supplies of tax forms and instructions to distribute to the public. You can also request to receive tax forms by mail by submitting a request at irs.gov or calling 1-800-TAX-FORM.

Regardless of the way you receive them, each tax form has detailed instructions. The instructions identify in plain terms exactly who needs to complete the form and where they need to submit the form. Some online forms even have specific instructions for printing.

Because tax policies can change from year to year, it’s important to carefully read the instructions on every form. Some forms, such as those employers or insurance companies submit to individuals, have instruction booklets rather than instructions attached, and you’ll want to read through them carefully.