Tax guide

What is a tax return?

A tax return is a report of four main pieces of information: how much you earned last year, how much taxes you owed last year, how much taxes you paid, and where you stand after applying any credits and deductions. If you didn’t pay enough taxes, now you pay what was left. If you paid too much tax, the government gives you back the excess.

An individual tax return is a filing obligation administered by the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and most state governments: It’s used to calculate and reconcile your tax liability for the prior tax year (when you file your taxes in 2020, for example, you’re reporting 2019’s information). In the process, you report all income amounts and claim available tax breaks using a series of government-prescribed forms.

Filing a tax return each spring ensures that you’ve paid enough tax over the course of the year. If you’ve overpaid your tax liability, you will have any extra money returned to you in a refund. If you’ve underpaid, you will owe the additional tax to the government by the prescribed due date, usually the 15th day of the 4th month of the filing year, or April 15.

Your main tax return form will be the Form 1040—any other schedules you need can be filled out and attached as needed. When you file with, we’ll automatically choose the right form for your tax situation.

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