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First understand how income taxes work

The Internal Revenue Service estimates that taxpayers and businesses spend 8.1 billion hours a year complying with tax-filing requirements. To put this into perspective, if all this work were done by a single company, it would need about four million full-time employees and be one of the largest industries in the U.S.

As complex as the details of taxes can be, the income tax process is fairly straightforward. However, the majority of Americans would rather not understand the process, which explains why more than half hire a tax professional to assist in their annual filing.²

The tax process starts with income, and generally, most income received is taxable. A taxpayer’s gross income includes income from work, investments, interest, pensions, as well as other sources. The income from all these sources is added together to arrive at the taxpayers’ gross income.

What’s not considered income? Child support payments, gifts, inheritances, workers’ compensation benefits, welfare benefits, or cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer.³

From gross income, adjustments are subtracted. These adjustments may include alimony, retirement plan contributions, half of self-employment, and moving expenses, among other items.

The result is the adjusted gross income.

From adjusted gross income, deductions are subtracted. With deductions, taxpayers have two choices: the standard deduction or itemized deductions, whichever is greater. The standard deduction amount varies based on filing status

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  1. National Taxpayer’s Union, April 16, 2018
  2. IRS.gov, 2018
  3. The tax code allows an individual to gift up to $15,000 per person in 2018 without triggering any gift or estate taxes. An individual can give away up to $11,200,000 without owing any federal tax. Couples can leave up to $22,400,000 without owing any federal tax. Also, keep in mind that some states may have their own estate tax regulations.