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It’s the most wonderful time of the year—time to receive your tax documents!

Ok, maybe it’s not the most wonderful time of the year, but it is an important time to keep an eye on your mailbox for documents marked “important tax return document enclosed.” The IRS requires many tax forms to be mailed by January 31, which means you will be receiving those documents in the coming weeks. Find out more about these official pieces of paper, why you might receive them, and what you should do with them. 

Charitable receipts

What Does “Important Tax Return Document Enclosed” Mean?

Getting anything in the mail that references taxes can make some people anxious. Are you being audited? Did you forget to pay your taxes last year? Luckily, envelopes with the message “important tax document enclosed” most often just contain forms from companies and other organizations that you need to complete your tax return. That’s especially true when you receive these items in January or early February.

4 Types of Tax Return Documents You Might Receive

When dealing with annual tax returns, most people want to minimize how much they owe or maximize how much they’ll get in their refund. But before you get going with the work of filing your taxes, it’s important to ensure you have all the information on hand to do it accurately. Here are five types of tax return documents you may want to watch your mailbox for.

1. W-2

What is it? Form W-2 is an official statement of how much your employer paid you in a given tax year. If an employer pays any person $600 or more within a given year, it’s required to issue a W-2. 

Employers must file W-2s with the Social Security Administration. This allows the SSA to track totals earned for individuals for the purpose of calculating eventual Social Security benefits. If an employer files a W-2 with the SSA, it must also issue copies to the employee by January 31. 

A W-2 form typically includes the following information:

  • The employer’s Employer Identification Number
  • A name and address for the employer
  • The employee’s name and address
  • Wages and tips earned
  • Amounts withheld for Social Security, Medicare, and federal income tax
  • State information, including any applicable state employer ID number and state taxes withheld

Who should get one?  A W-2 is the appropriate tax form if you worked as a W-2 employee—which means you completed a W-4 when you were hired, and the employer withholds taxes from your paycheck. 

If you are a contractor or your employer does not withhold taxes for you, you should receive a 1099-NEC form instead. If you are self-employed, you won’t receive a W-2, but you will need to use Schedule SE to determine the taxes on your earnings. In any of these cases, it may be helpful to get help with filing your taxes so you don’t miss anything.

If you had certain gambling winnings, you should also receive a W-2G.

What do you do with it? You should use your W-2 forms to input income information on your tax forms. If you use a tax software, you can easily input information from your W-2 form. In some cases, you may be able to import digital copies of your forms to reduce manual data entry on your tax return.

What if you don’t get one? If you were expecting a W-2 but don’t receive it, you’ll need to contact your employer. You may have the wrong address listed with your employer, or they may offer digital copies rather than mailed copies. If you are still unable to locate your W-2, contact the IRS and fill out Form 4852.

2. 1099

What is it? Multiple types of 1099 forms exist. All provide ways for businesses and other organizations to report non-employee payments made to someone else. For example, if you contract to provide work to a business, you may be issued a 1099 form for the payments it made to you within the tax year.

What types of 1099s are there? More than a dozen 1099 form types exist. Here are some of the most common:

  • 1099-C: Cancellation of Debt form. The IRS considers certain canceled or forgiven debts as a form of income. If you settle a debt, finalize a bankruptcy, or have another type of debt canceled, you may receive a 1099-C in the mail.
  • 1099-NEC: Nonemployee Compensation form. This form has made a return for the 2020 tax year (it was last used in 1982). It’s used for contract work, which was previously reported on the 1099-MISC. If you earn $600 or more as a contractor, you should receive a 1099-NEC.
  • 1099-G: Certain Government Payments form. The 1099-G is used to report income from government benefits programs. This includes unemployment compensation. Many people may receive a 1099-G for the first time this year after drawing unemployment in 2020 due to COVID-19
  • 1099-DIV: Dividend and Distributions form. If you receive distributions or dividends related to certain types of investments or ownership shares, you may receive this form.
  • 1099-INT: Interest Income form. If you earn a certain amount of interest from investments or other accounts, including savings accounts, you may receive a 1099-INT.
  • 1099-R: Distribution from Pensions, Retirement, etc. form. In some cases, income you withdraw from qualified retirement plans may need to be reported for deferred tax purposes. Typically, that income would be reported on a 1099-R.
  • 1099-MISC: Miscellaneous Income form. This is a catch-all form for reporting income that isn’t appropriate to include on any of the other forms. Some types of income that might be reported on form 1099-MISC include royalties, rents, and money received as part of awards, prizes, or giveaways.

What do you do with it? If you receive a 1099, it means a business or other agency has reported paying you income. Whether or not you need to report the income as taxable depends on the type of 1099 you received and other factors. However, in most cases, you will need to include the information from the 1099 in your tax return in some manner and may need to attach copies of the 1099s to your return when you file.

What if you don’t get one? Because 1099 forms can come from many different sources, tracking them down is a bit more complicated. Some companies, like banks, will often have them available to download. If you were expected a 1099 but didn’t receive one, follow up with the company directly.

3. 1098

What is it? The various 1098 forms indicate that you paid someone else and the payment in question might be tax deductible. While the original form 1098 is to report mortgage interest paid, there are other forms in this series.

What types of 1098 forms are there?  From mortgage interest paid to student loan payments, you can get a 1098 form for a variety of reasons. Here are a few common ones:

  • Form 1098 details how much mortgage interest you paid during the tax year as well as points paid on the purchase of a principal residence. 
  • Form 1098-T details how much you made in qualified tuition payments as well as how much you received in scholarships or other aid.
  • Form 1098-E indicates how much student loan interest you paid during the tax year.
  • Form 1098-C may be issued to you if you donate a vehicle to a tax-exempt organization.

What do you do with it? Provide these documents to your tax preparer or use the information from the forms to answer questions in your tax software. These payments you made may reduce the amount of taxes you owe as they can help you qualify for credits or deductions.

4. Charitable Receipts

If you donate to a qualified charity, you can deduct that amount on your taxes by filing a Schedule A and itemizing your deductions. In general, you can deduct up to 60% of your AGI via these donations. However, the CARES Act eliminated this limit for cash donations to certain charities. This tax year, you can also deduct up to $300 in cash donations without having to itemize.

When you donate to an organization, you should receive a receipt or other documentation outlining the amount you donated and whether or not it may be tax deductible. These won’t necessarily come in the form of an official 1098 form, which means you’ll need to keep track of your individual donations throughout the year so you can use them to maximize your return once it’s time to file.

Keep an Eye on Your Mailbox

Most of the tax forms you’ll need will arrive between the first of the year and the beginning of February. Check your mail regularly and pay attention to what you receive to ensure you don’t miss an important tax form. It’s also possible you could receive forms online, so check your email regularly and log into your online accounts to check for tax form updates.

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