I Just Filed my Taxes for the First Time, and Here's What I Learned

I filed my taxes for the first time last week and I have a few observations:

1. Being an adult is hard.

2. It’s nice to write down how much money I make.

3. Donating to things is also good.

4. I love TurboTax.

5. Asking for forgiveness is better than asking for permission, but do it at your own risk.

I’m 21 years old. My dad has been filing my taxes since I turned 18. At 7 p.m. on the day my taxes were due, my dad decided it was time I became an adult. He handed me a folder of forms and said, “Go do your taxes.”

Needless to say I was shocked, angry and absolutely petrified. I imagined myself clicking the “submit taxes” button and two buff men in dark suits and sunglasses knock on my door, throw me against a police car and arrest me for tax fraud. Whether I’d be in jail the next day or not, the taxes had to be done. I opened the folder and saw mysteriously named files. Behold the 1098-T, W-2, 1099-Q – I was basically staring at gibberish that I never saw on any AP Government exam. Enter TurboTax (disclosure: TurboTax did not sponsor this post or pay me to write good things)!

The only instruction my dad gave me was to make an account on TurboTax. I started with that and was whisked into a world of social security numbers, too-personal questions, and a lot of attempts to get myself federal tax returns. I was asked about my personal life – no I am not married, nor do I own a home. Couldn’t I just write that I’m a college student and TurboTax skips all the steps and says, “We get it, you have no idea what you’re doing with your life?” That would basically sum up my tax needs. Nevertheless, I persisted.  The best part of filling out form after form was being asked what my income was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as high as a normal adult (last year I worked part-time and only for the summer), but still nice to put in something more than $0. I also got to include my new laptop, all my books, and my apartment rent as “educational expenses” (thanks SMU). I’m shocked TurboTax didn’t tell me to drop out and go to a cheaper college after all that. 

I also got to include the few donations I’ve made as deductible expenses. Thankfully I remembered that event months ago when, in a moment of passion, I donated to a worthy cause. I felt good about the donation then and getting to include that in my filing last week made me feel even better. Note to self: keep donating. Unless you’re broke, then don’t be stupid. 

Moving on. In the folder of torture was a copy of my tax returns from last year. It had lots of boxes and government-looking verbiage. In the moment of verifying I had completed everything correctly, I was infinitely grateful to TurboTax for developing the software so I never had to actually fill out that scary form. All I had to do was fill in simple boxes online and keep clicking, “continue” until it said I was done. TurboTax really is “taxes done smarter” (maybe next year I’ll put TurboTax ambassador in the employment section of my taxes). 

In the process of filing, I came across a lot of sections that required some risk-taking. I didn’t know if my laptop actually counted as an educational expense or whether I was just including it to say I spent more on my education than I actually did (not that my tuition needed any boosting). Did my trip to the ER when I had the flu count as regular medical expense (it wasn’t included in insurance because the Park Cities Medical City ER is a rip-off)? What about my college fund – is that considered taxable income? I checked so many boxes without real understanding of what I was doing. Like I said, I risked asking the IRS for forgiveness instead of trying to figure it out. Since no men in dark suits showed up at my door, I think I was okay (I’ll keep you posted on whether they show up tomorrow).

 Clicking, “file taxes” brought me back to that moment my senior year of high school, pushing the “submit application” button for colleges. Then I was applying to college, now I’m applying for adulthood. I just hope I get in.