Filing Taxes in the United States


In the words of the great Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Americans have been paying income taxes since the Revenue Act of 1862. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the branch of the federal government that is responsible for collecting taxes and administering the Internal Revenue Code. The IRS is an agency in the bureau of the Department of the Treasury and the director of the IRS is the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.

History of the IRS
Collecting taxes began when President Abraham Lincoln and Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1862 in order to raise funds for the American Civil War. This is also when the position of Commissioner of Internal Revenue was created. In the early 1900’s, a tax reform movement was in action and in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted. The Sixteenth Amendment states “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” The very first IRS 1040 form is dated 1913 and indicates that only persons with incomes of $3,000 or greater were required to file income taxes. A copy of this form is shown on the IRS website. These days, the IRS collects trillions of dollars each tax year from over 200 million tax returns.

How to File Taxes
Some people choose to prepare their taxes at home using tax-preparation software, while others hire tax professionals. Regardless of who prepares the taxes, they will need to be filed with the IRS by mailing in a paper tax return or filing electronically. The greatest benefit to filing electronically is the quick return of your tax refund, especially if you choose to have it deposited directly into a checking or savings account. Also, when filing electronically you do not need to worry about where to send the documents. If you are mailing a paper tax return, be sure to mail the correct forms to the correct address. The mailing address for each form will be indicated in the instructions. It is very important to double check that all documents are filled in completely and have all required signatures.

When to File Taxes
The due date for your taxes depends on if you are filing for a calendar year or a fiscal year. The vast majority of individual income tax filers uses a calendar year and has a due date of April 15 for the previous tax year ending on December 31. A fiscal year is a period used for taxes and annual financial statements. For those filing using a fiscal year, the due date is on or before day 15 of the fourth month after your fiscal year closes. There are special situations, such as those in the serving in a combat zone, allowing for additional time. The IRS does accept requests for time extensions if you are unable to file your return before the due date. Even if the due date is extended; the time of payment due is not and you could potentially owe interest on past due taxes.

Filing income taxes is a requirement of all United States citizens. It can seem overwhelming and stressful to some, but it doesn’t have to be. There are different ways to file and various tax professionals to help. The IRS also has a very extensive website with an abundance of information. If you have any questions about filing your income taxes, the IRS website is an excellent place to find the answers.