By Justin Smith

The 2020 tax filing season has opened! The Internal Revenue Service expects more than 150 million returns will be filed this year, and almost 75% of those are likely to receive a tax refund. The IRS indicated that the average tax refund in 2019 was $2,869, and statistics should be published soon to provide information on what 2020 tax refunds look like.
Now that filing season is underway, it’s important to obtain your critical tax documents to ensure you get the very best result possible, especially if you engage a professional to prepare your return. Each taxpayer has a unique situation, and no single checklist can serve everyone’s needs. However, the documents outlined below should cover the majority of many taxpayers’ needs. If you have questions, it’s best to bring the document with you. It is better to identify a few extra nondeductible expenses rather than forget to include a legitimate deduction that could have increased your refund.
Personal Information:

  1. Driver licenses
  2. Social Security Number / date of birth for all dependents listed on the return
  3. Bank account information to direct deposit your refund into
  4. Prior year tax return(s).
  5. Estimated federal and state tax payments made throughout the year
    Income Information
  6. W-2 forms from your employer
  7. K-1 schedules to report income from partnerships and S Corporations
  8. 1099-MISC forms to report income for independent contractors and real estate landlords
  9. 1099-INT, 1099-DIV and 1099-B forms to report interest, dividends and capital gains/losses
  10. 1099-R and 1099-SSA forms to report retirement income such as Social Security, pensions or 401k/IRA distributions
  11. 1099-G forms to report governmental payments such as unemployment or state tax refunds
    Adjustments to
  12. Contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
  13. Student loan interest (up to $2,500 per year is typically deductible, with income limits)
  14. Educator expenses (up to $250, or $500 if both spouses are educators)
  15. Self-employment taxes
  16. Self-employed health insurance premiums
    Itemized Deductions and Credits
  17. Mortgage interest (including mortgage insurance premiums and origination points)
  18. Records of charitable contributions (cash and noncash) – be careful; gifts to individuals such as through GoFundMe campaigns are not deductible. Only contributions to qualified recipients such as 501(c)3 non-profits are deductible
  19. State and local income taxes paid
  20. Automobile ad
    valorem taxes
  21. Real estate taxes (typically for your home)
  22. Child care expenses
  23. Higher education expenses such as college tuition and fees (the tuition and fees deduction is back, along with the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit)
    Many taxpayers have other forms of income and expenses resulting from sources such as royalties, rental property, side jobs and self-employment such as driving for Uber/Lyft or running a small home- based business. These are typically handled as part of your individual tax return and should be discussed with your tax preparer.
    The IRS typically takes about 3-4 weeks upon submission to process and direct deposit refunds to your bank account, so keep that timeline in mind as you are planning what to do with your refund.
    Justin Smith is a licensed certified public accountant in Opelika, specializing in individual and small business tax and accounting. He can be contacted at 334-400-9234 or His web site is