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Why wait? Tips for filing your tax return early

This year’s tax deadline is Tuesday, April 18, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to file. In fact, the tax season officially begins on Jan. 23, so now is the time to start formulating your 2017 tax plan. In addition to removing procrastination stress, filing early also means you’ll get your refund sooner, more attention from you tax preparer, and possible discounts.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:

What you’ll need

You’re probably waiting for your W-2, which is the document used to report wages and taxes withheld. Employers must distribute W-2’s to their employees by Jan. 31, so keep an eye on your mailbox in the coming weeks.

With your W-2 in hand, there are other documents and information you’ll need.

  • Your Social Security number, in addition to the Social Security number of your spouse (if you’re filing jointly), and those of any dependents.
  • Your spouse’s W-2 if filing a joint return.
  • Documentation for any income you earned. This includes 1099 forms for contract work, unemployment income, alimony received, business income, and income from local and state tax refunds from the previous year.
  • Any miscellaneous income. This includes jury duty, lottery and gambling winnings. Form 1099-MISC for prizes and awards. Form 1099-MSA for distributions from medical savings accounts.
  • Any income from investments. This includes interest income, income from foreign investments, dividend income, proceeds from the sales of bonds or stocks.
  • All documentation to support adjustments to your income, which can lower the amount you owe in taxes. This can be things like IRA contributions, energy credits, and student loan interest you paid.

You can find all the forms you’ll need on the IRS’s website.

Do it yourself

If your taxes are pretty straightforward, consider using an electronic tax filing service. If your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is less than $64,000 a year, the IRS has a list of sites where you can file for free, including Tax Act, TurboTax and H&R Block. Depending on the site, some will even file your state return at no charge. They also have free options for people making more than $64,000.

When it comes to buying software, consumers can also find discounted packages at their favorite retailers. Amazon currently has TurboTax Deluxe on sale for $39.86 (regularly $59.99) and the H&R Block software for Homeowners and Investors for $24.99 (regularly $44.99).

Get help

If you made a huge lifestyle change in 2016, (like getting married, having a child, or buying a house), and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might prefer for a tax pro to do the heavy lifting.

Filing early increases your chances of finding an accountant or agent who is a little less busy and can spend more time on your return. Some even offer discounted rates to early filers. When it comes to choosing the right person to prepare your taxes, many go with an enrolled agent, certified public accountant or tax attorney. If you choose one of these options, make sure to ask about their credentials and verify them on the IRS directory of tax return preparers.

In 2015, the average cost of having an itemized Form 1040 with Schedule A prepared with a state tax return was $273. According to the National Society of Accountants (NSA), this was up 4.6% compared to 2014. The cost of having a Form 1040 and state return without itemized deductions was $159. With this in mind, be sure to ask your tax preparer about their costs upfront, and have them detail any additional charges you might incur as the process continues. Asking questions early and often will prevent you from paying large preparation fees down the road.

Your refund

In order to get your refund via direct deposit, you’ll need to have your bank account number and your bank’s routing number easily accessible.

If you file early, your refund might be held until Feb. 15 if your tax return includes the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. This is a new tax law, so if you claim either of these credits you might not see your money until more like Feb. 27.

If you’re in a rush, e-filing and choosing direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. However, as a rule, the IRS issues most refunds within 21 days of filing — so it’s best to plan for 21 days, and hope for sooner.

In the end, filing early means less stress, more help from your tax preparer and best of all, you’ll get your refund sooner. And if you owe money, you’ll have more time to figure out how to pay the bill.

Will you file your taxes early this year? Let us know in the comments sections below.

Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.

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