We hear horror stories about taxes, but for most people, it’s not so bad. Here’s what you need to know as a tax filing virgin.

Ugh. Taxes.

Preparing your taxes for the first time isn’t exactly fun.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have be scary. We hear horror stories, but it’s not as bad as all that.

A little knowledge goes a long way. Before you get caught up in a worry spiral, here are a few things to know about preparing your taxes for the first time:

There’s plenty of free tax help available.

First of all, realize that there is plenty of free tax help available to you.

If you live in a college town, there’s a good chance that you can get help from students in the accounting program. Many business departments encourage students to prepare tax returns, and their instructors double-check their work.

Also, see if your local area has a VITA program. These sites help you prepare your taxes if you make $54,000 or less. It’s a good way to get another pair of eyes and some solid support for your tax prep needs.

You can even file your taxes for free.

If you’re doing your taxes for the first time, there’s a good chance you qualify to file for free. Assuming your household income is less than $64,000, you can take advantage of Free File.

Well-known companies like TurboTax and H&R Block participate in Free File options. Plus, depending on your state, you might even get free help filing your state taxes.

You don’t have to itemize for good tax deductions.

When you hear words like “itemize,” you probably zone out. The good news is that you probably don’t have to worry about itemizing when preparing your taxes for the first time. You won’t even miss out on some pretty sweet deductions, either.

Some of the deductions you’re most likely to take this go are on the first page of your Form 1040. These include:

  • Moving expenses (if you move for work)
  • Student loan interest
  • Tuition and fees
  • Portion of your self-employment tax (if you have a side gig)

There are other deductions you can take without itemizing, such as contributions to your Health Savings Account and to your Traditional IRA.

You can keep digital records.

It’s possible to prepare your taxes with the help of your phone. On top of that, you can keep digital records of your receipts and other records you might need. An app like Shoeboxed can help you manage everything digitally, so there’s no need to mess with paper.

Just scan everything or snap a picture and manage it digitally so you can streamline the process. It makes things easier, whether you’re filing taxes for the first time or the tenth.

File an extension if you need to.

Stressed about getting everything done by April 15?

Slow down, take a deep breath. Then file an extension. The last thing you want to do is rush through the process and make unnecessary mistakes.

While filing an extension doesn’t protect you from paying if you owe (but, really, if this is your first time with taxes, you probably don’t), but it can give you time to get your shit together.

It’s much less stressful to file an extension than try to get everything done on time if you’ve fallen behind. And you don’t even need any special reason to file for an extension.

You’ll feel better in the future if you plan ahead and manage your taxes as you go through the year, but for now, file that extension if you feel the pressure to get done on time.

Stay away from scams and refund anticipation loans.

Even seasoned tax filers sometimes make poor decisions — and that includes getting scammed.

Watch out for tax preparers that are willing to fudge the numbers a bit or claim that you are “guaranteed” something before they even know your situation.

Stick with the old standbys when you first file your taxes. Reputable and well-known tax prep software, or those retail tax prep places are usually good bets for tax filing virgins. As your situation becomes more complicated, you can start looking for more tailored advice.

While you’re at it, watch out for people who will “accelerate” your refund. In most cases, those are costly loans that come with huge fees.

The truth is that, even if you are doing your taxes for the first time, you can get your refund fast by filing electronically and choosing the direct deposit option. You don’t need an expensive loan to get your refund quickly.

Double-check everything before you send it in.

Before you send in your return, make sure that you check everything.

Even if you trust your tax preparer, look over everything. If you find a mistake after hit send, you have to file an amended return, and that is a real pain in the ass. You can only file an amended return in hardcopy.

Whether your doing taxes for the first time, or you’re an old pro, take a few minutes to review your return, and see if it makes sense. You’ll be happy you did.

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No one likes paying bills, but it’s a fact of adult life. Here’s how to make bills your bitch.

Paying bills sucks.

But proper adulting means you need to stay on top of your bills. Dominate them. Paying your bills on time can help you with your credit, and it ensures that you still have access to things like a place to live, your cell phone service, and electricity.

Your life will suffer if you get caught too far behind. When you don’t pay your bills, you can lose your apartment or house and all the other services you pay for. If you want to make your own decisions and live your life on your terms, you also have to be responsible and handle the business of paying bills.

You don’t have to do it on your own, though. Here are a few tools that can help you stay on top of your bills.

1. Make it automatic.

One of my favorite tools is automation. So many companies will let you automate you bill pay. My cell phone, Internet, car loan, and rent payment are all automated. Grocery delivery? Automatically taken care of each week. Same for the delivery from the dairy. Many power companies also set up recurring billing. I was even able to set up recurring automatic payments for the medical bills I incurred earlier this year.

The main downside to automation is that you have to stay on top of your bank account. If the money is coming out of your bank account, you need to make sure the money is in there and available. I like to use credit cards for most of my automated payments. This gives me a little breathing space when it comes to paying.

2. Use just any personal finance software.

If you aren’t tracking your spending and planning your bills, there’s a good chance you could wind up in trouble. Use personal finance software to track your income and expenses. You can also use it to plan ahead and test out how your bills will impact your cash flow later in the month.

My personal finance software (Moneydance) allows me to set up reminders and automatic transaction entries so I can look ahead and see what bills are coming up. You can also use your own personal finance software to remind you when bills are due.

3. Check out a calendar app.

paying-bills

There are plenty of calendar apps to set up reminders that can help you stay on top of your bills. Google Calendar and iCal from Apple are both good examples. If you do use these apps to pop up reminders for bills, set them to remind you at least 10 days in advance. You want to allow plenty of time for you to make your payment.

Whether you automate, schedule payments ahead of time, or write a check (really, though, who DOES that?), it’s important to look in and make sure everything is squared away. A little calendar reminder can be just the thing to keep you on top of the situation.

4. Designate a specific bill-paying time.

Pick a time of the week or the month to sit down and take care of money matters. I’m to the point where I mostly just check things out once a week. I have a specific time on Sunday (my least busy day) where I look into my accounts to ensure that there are no fraudulent purchases. Then I look in my personal finance software to see what bills are coming up. I verify that they are still on automatic withdrawal and that everything is on point. It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes.

Picking a time to have a sit-down with your money can at least help you pay all the bills due that week. You can also pick a bill-paying day and get everything paid for the whole month. Then you only have to worry about it one time each month, and that can help stay on top of your bills without a great deal of stress.

5. Ask for new due dates.

As you track your spending habits, eventually you’ll notice that sometimes it just doesn’t work out with due dates. Your bill due dates may not mesh with when you have money coming in from your job. If you contact your service providers, you might be able to choose your own due dates. Choose dates that allow you to get money in the bank so it all works out.

Paying bills is never fun, but it’s part of what you have to do as a proper (or even not-so-proper) adult. With a little help, though, you can get it done on time.

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You can learn many lessons about being an adult from a teenager. This teen may even be a better adult than you are.

What makes an adult?

According to society and government, once you reach age 18 you are considered an adult. You can make your own decisions and sign legal documents. But just because you are a certain age, does that make you an adult?

While you might technically be an adult, the actual act of adulting is a little bit harder. Functioning as a successful adult requires more than just turning 18.

In fact, as I look at some of the things so-called adults do (or don’t do), I realize that there is a lot that 21-year-olds can learn from my 13-year-old son. Hell, there are probably some days that my son is actually a better adult than I am.

Here are some of the life skills that my 13-year-old excels at, and will help him when he becomes an actual adult.

Time management.

If you want to be a better adult and more successful in life, time management is key. We all have days when we don’t want to get something done wrong we have a hard time getting a handle on the clock. The idea, though, is to do our best to plan ahead so that we can manage our obligations.

A couple weeks ago, my son and I were talking about our after-school day. I reminded him that I had a meeting to go to and that he would be on his own after dinner. He mentioned that he knew that he would need help with his homework and suggested that we tackle the homework first, before he practiced saxophone. Rather then springing the homework on me after I returned from my meeting, he thought ahead to all of what he needed to do that afternoon and took the initiative to make sure he had time for all of his obligations.

Sometimes we just run out of that time and we have to choose between different activities. That’s just life. Adulting is recognizing that sometimes you do have control over your time, and making sure you prioritize what is most important.

Do you have to be told what needs to be done?

My 13-Year-Old Is a Better Adult Than You Are

We only need direction sometimes, especially when we’re learning something new. However, if you want to be a better an adult you need to recognize that sometimes you just need to do what needs to be done without being told.

My son comes home from school and knows he needs to take care of certain things. He has music practice, fencing practice, and homework. I don’t need to tell him to get started on these things; even on days he doesn’t necessarily want to get going, you still getting started even if I’m not home too tell him to do so.

After I broke my wrist my son really stepped up, keeping track of when he needed to start the laundry and paying attention to what time to start dinner. In many cases, he saw would need to be done and went ahead and did it.

Eat healthy meals.

We all like junk food. I’d rather eat cake than make a salad. However, I know that macaroni and cheese for dinner every day and over processed foods aren’t good for me. So I don’t make them very often.

My son is learning how to be a better adult by making better food choices. When he make dinner, he includes a fruit and vegetable in addition to whatever the entrée is. He helps with cooking, and is capable of reading a recipe. Thanks to Blue Apron, it’s possible for him to see you what we plan to have and get step-by-step instructions on making a nutritious dinner.

Track your spending.

Maybe it’s because I write about money, but my son is already learning habits that many 20-somethings I know don’t have down. I recently got him a debit card, and he is very good about tracking his spending.

He also takes the time to think about what he wants to buy with his money. He almost most never makes an impulse purchase because he had a clear idea of what he hopes to use his money for, and the knowledge that if he uses his money on something today he won’t be able to buy something else tomorrow.

He’s also learning to give money to charity and set aside money for the future. He follows the stock market because he is investing in an index fund with his long-term savings money.

Finally, he’s constantly thinking of other ways to make money. He works hard and his 4-H projects so that he can earn ribbon money, and he helps out with administrative duties in my home office. He also has big plans for a YouTube channel and other online ventures. We’ll see if he follows through with any of them.

Obviously my 13-year-old is not ready for many of the responsibilities associated with being an adult. But he’s got a pretty good handle on things.

What do you think makes an adult? Are there some things that you see so-called adults doing that aren’t very adult-like at all? How are you trying to be a better adult?

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