1. Gather all your records - Yes, you need to go through that massive pile of paper you've been looking at for months (or perhaps all year).
2. Check your mail/email/inbox - W2s and 1099 will be arriving soon. Once you have them, put them in a safe place until you are ready to file your return.
3. Review, Review, Review - Even when you are having your return prepared by a professional, it is always important to review the work they have done on your behalf. Even something as simple as a mis-typed birthdate can lead to delays in your refund.
And a few tax tips from me:
1. Always be sure your preparer is registered with both the IRS and CA. You can look up current registrations at the IRS website and the California Tax Education Counsel website.
2. Expect to spend at least 30-90 minutes with your tax preparer. Even if you have a very simple return, your preparer should be asking you multiple questions to be sure that you qualify for all available credits and deductions.
3. Don't stress. Your tax professional has the knowledge and the ability to prepare your return. If you don't trust your tax preparer, its time to find a new one. A great place to start is asking trusted friends for referrals and then vetting the suggested professionals with the IRS and CTEC.
I hope you find these tips helpful in the coming months. Remember, even if you think you may owe money to the IRS or your state, it is always better to file as soon as possible. You still have until April 15 (4/16/12 this year) to send your payment.
Warm Wishes and a Happy New Year,