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Taxes 101: Beginner's Guide to Filing Your 1040

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Filing your taxes can certainly seem daunting at first, but the process is fairly straightforward when you're adequately prepared.

To help taxpayers file their returns without a hitch before the April 17 deadline (thanks to Emancipation Day and the fact 2012 is a leap year, the deadline has been pushed back three days), we asked tax experts to break down the basics of what you should know.

Taxes can certainly seem daunting at first, but the process is fairly straightforward when you're adequately prepared.

What Documents You'll Need:
The first thing you'll need on hand is a copy of all your W-2 or earning statements from each employer you worked with throughout 2011. The good news is that these forms should be mailed to you, so you don't have to worry about hunting them down unless you have moved and an old employer may not have your new address. Federal law stipulates that employers must send out your copy of a W-2 by Jan. 31, so now's the time to keep a close eye on your mailbox, especially since the W-2 isn't the only form you should on the lookout for.

Depending on your current portfolio, you may also get a 1099, which is issued for all additional income that has not yet been taxed. This can include dividends from stocks or mutual funds or interest earned on savings or other bank accounts. (According to Bob Meighan, vice president at Intuit's (INTU) TurboTax, first-time filers typically need to know how much interest they paid on their student loans, which should also be on mailed to them on a Form 1098-E around this time of year.)

Basically, you'll need to check your mail for "anything that comes in January that says 'important tax information' on it," says Daniel Morris, senior partner at Morris + D'Angelo, a certified public accounting firm. These forms are essential when you sit down to do your taxes.

You can find a more in-depth look at all the forms you should bring to your tax preparer in this roundup.

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