Your Guide to Tax Forms

Alden Wicker

If LearnVest ran the IRS, we would name forms things like “Work” form, “Self-Employed” form and “Oops, You Made a Mistake” form.

But of course, we don’t run the government, and instead we are directed to a jumble of letters and numbers. C’est la taxes.

Hey, we do what we can. So we’ll walk you through the most commonly used tax forms, when you need them and where to get them.

There are a lot, so we’ve ordered them by First, Second and Finish. Skim the titles to find the ones for you. And if you need a form that is not linked here (because, honestly, there are hundreds) you can most certainly find it by using the IRS’s search function.

Let’s get started, shall we?

First: The Basics

Before tax time even begins, you’ve already filled out certain forms. Others are coming in the mail. You won’t need to download either for the purpose of filing your return this April, but if you familiarize yourself with them, your life will be much easier, we promise.

Fill It Out at Work: W-4

This is the form you fill out when you start a new job or have a major life event like getting married, buying a house or having a baby. It tells your employer how much to withhold from your paycheck for taxes. You should be familiar with this form not because you need it at tax time, but because if you decide to change your withholding or how many dependents you have, you will need to ask your HR department for a W-4 to fill out.

Checklist: I Want to Fill Out My W-4 Withholding Form

Fill It Out as a Freelancer: W-9

If you’re self-employed, clients or companies that hire you as a contractor might ask you to fill this out when you take the job. It’s a simple document that only includes your name, address, Social Security Number and maybe your tax identification number if, instead of working as an individual, you are part of a company that’s been contracted. You would also use this form if your tax ID doesn’t match the IRS’s records or if you are subject to withholding, which means that the IRS has informed you that you owe taxes and are subject to mandatory withholding.

RELATED: Your Taxes … If You’re a Freelancer

tax forms

Get This From Your Employer: W-2

This is the form you get in the mail from your employer (or employers if you freelance or had more than one job) after the end of the year. If it doesn’t arrive by mid-February, contact your employer(s) and ask that they send it, because it is crucial for filing a correct tax return. It tallies how much you earned and paid in federal and local income taxes and Social Security. It will also tell you how much you put aside for a 401(k) or pretax spending accounts (say, for health care or dependent care) if you chose to do so.

Get This From Your Clients: 1099

If you’re self-employed, clients or companies that hire you as a contractor and/or freelancer might send this to you before the tax filing deadline. It gives you a summary of money they’ve paid to you, which is, hence, the amount that you need to pay taxes on. Make sure the amounts listed on your W-2s and 1099s match exactly what you put on your return. The IRS automatically flags returns with inconsistencies for potential audit.