How to File Taxes for the First Time

by Jessica Kent

If you are filing your federal personal tax return for the first time for calendar year 2009, one important thing to remember is if your income is less than the total of the standard deduction for your filing status and your exemptions, you will not owe any taxes. For example, if your filing status is single for 2009 and your income is less than or equal to $9,350, you will not owe any taxes. The combination of your standard deduction and exemptions will eliminate your taxes.

Prepare your 1040

Complete the boxes for your personal information. Do not forget to include your social security number.

Check the appropriate box for your filing status in boxes 1 through 5. Enter your exemptions/dependents in the boxes provided for line 6.

Enter all income received in 2009 in lines 7 through 21, including wages found on Form W-2, interest, dividends, stock sales and income from K-1's and Schedule C businesses, social security benefits and IRA, annuity and pension income.

Enter the total of lines 7 through 21 in line 22. This is your total income.

Enter adjustments to adjusted gross income in lines 23 through 35, if applicable. The most common adjustments include a deduction of $250 for educator/teacher expenses not reimbursed by the employer on line 23; one-half of the self-employment tax paid if filing a Schedule C on line 27; alimony paid on line 31a; and student loan interest deduction on line 33.

Add lines 23 through 35 and enter the result on line 37. This is your adjusted gross income. Enter your adjusted gross income again on line 38.

Indicate if you or your spouse was born before January 2, 1945 in the boxes provided for line 39.

Enter your itemized or standard deduction on line 40a. If using your itemized deductions, complete Schedule A. Itemized deductions include medical expenses, real estate taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions. If your itemized deductions are less than the standard deduction for your filing status, simply enter the standard deduction. For 2009, the standard deduction can be increased for real estate taxes, sales tax paid on a new auto or disaster losses. To claim this enhanced standard deduction in 2009, complete Schedule L.

Subtract line 40a from line 38 and enter the result in line 41.

Multiply $3,650 by the number of exemptions claimed on line 6 and enter the result on line 42. If your adjusted gross income on line 38 is greater than $125,100, the credit you receive for exemptions will be decreased. Consult the Form 1040 instructions for clarification.

Subtract line 42 from line 41 and enter the result on line 43. This is your taxable income. Enter the applicable tax on line 44 from the tax tables found in the Form 1040 Instructions.

Enter applicable tax credits in lines 47 through 54. Common credits include education credits on line 49 and child tax credit on line 51. Enter the total of your tax credits on line 54.

Subtract line 54 from 46 and enter the result on line 55.

Enter other taxes you are subject to on lines 56 through 69. The most common tax in this section is self employment tax on line 56. Self-employment tax applies to income received from Forms 1099-misc as well as income reported on Schedule C. Complete Schedule SE if reporting self-employment tax. Add lines 55 through 59 and enter the result on line 60. This is your total tax.

Enter federal tax payments in lines 61 through 70. Payments include income tax withheld per forms W-2 and 1099 (line 61), estimated tax payments made in 2009 (line 62), earned income credit (line 64a), additional child tax credit (line 65) and refundable education credits (line 66). Add lines 61 through 70 and enter the result on line 70. These are your total payments.

Check your payments per line 71 against your total tax per line 60. If line 71 is greater than line 60, you overpaid your taxes for the year. Subtract line 60 from 71 and enter the result in line 72. Chose the amount of the overpayment you want refunded to you (line 73a) versus the amount of the overpayment you want to apply to your 2010 income taxes (line 74). For refunds, enter the applicable banking information to receive the refund via direct deposit. If line 71 is less than line 60, you underpaid your taxes for the year. Subtract line 71 from line 60 and enter the result in line 75. This is the amount you will pay when you file your tax return.

Sign, date and state your occupation and phone number in the area provided. Have your spouse do the same, if applicable. Mail your return and any tax due to the address indicated per the Form 1040 instructions.


  • IRS forms change annually. Check back at the IRS website for the most current form if filing for a year other than 2009.

Items you will need

  • Form W-2
  • 1099's received
  • Documents regarding itemized deductions, ie: 1098 (mortgage interest) and real estate taxes
  • IRS tax forms
  • Pencil
  • Calculator

About the Author

Jessica Kent started writing professionally in 2002. Her articles have appeared in publications including the New York State Bar Association's "Family Law Review," "Valuation Strategies" and "Metropolitan Corporate Counsel." Through her writing, she strives to assist people in making informed financial decisions. She is a Certified Public Accountant in New York. Kent holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Binghamton University.