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Filing Corporate Tax Returns in USA: Steps to Prepare and File

Corporate Tax Returns
Read Time: 4 min

Businesses incorporated in the United States have a crucial annual obligation to file corporate tax returns. This obligation is critical for their operations. The IRS receives reports of the corporation’s financial operations and taxable income through these filings. These filings also determine the corporation’s federal income tax liability. Understanding the process and adhering to the filing requirements ensure timely compliance and avoid potential penalties.

Table of Contents

Corporate Tax in USA: An Overview

The United States follows a territorial tax system for corporations, meaning corporations are generally only taxed on income earned within the U.S. 

This differs from a worldwide tax system, where corporations pay taxes on all income earned globally. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established the federal corporate income tax rate in the United States at 21%. Various factors, such as deductions, credits, and state and local taxes, can influence the effective tax rate of a corporation.

It’s important to note that state and local tax laws may impose additional taxes on corporations operating within their jurisdiction. These taxes and their complexities can vary significantly by state, adding another layer to consider when fulfilling tax obligations.

Corporate Tax Returns

Filing Corporate Tax Returns – Steps Involved

Filing corporate tax returns involves several key steps:

Determining the Filing Due Date:

  • Corporate tax returns are due on the 15th of the fourth month after the end of the corporation’s tax year.
  • For example, if a corporation’s tax year ends on December 31st, the usual filing deadline would be April 15th of the following year.
  • Extensions can be requested using IRS Form 7004, but it’s essential to remember that the extension only applies to filing, not the payment of any tax due.

Gathering Necessary Documents:

  • The financial performance of an entity is represented by a set of documents that include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.
  • Tax records, including all receipts, invoices, and bank statements
  • Depreciation schedules for all depreciable assets
  • Payroll records and related tax forms (W-2s, 1099s, etc.)
  • Documentation related to any deductions and credits claimed

Selecting the Appropriate Form:

  • The primary form used for filing corporate tax returns is Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return.
  • However, specific circumstances may necessitate utilizing variations, such as Form 1120-S for S corporations or Form 1120F for foreign corporations with U.S. income.

Completing the Form:

  • Form 1120 contains sections requiring detailed information about the corporation’s income, expenses, deductions, credits, and tax liabilities.
  • Carefully review instructions and consult with a tax professional to ensure accurate and complete information is provided.

Filing the Return:

  • The IRS offers both electronic filing (e-filing) and paper filing options.
  • E-filing is generally faster and more secure, allowing for immediate filing confirmation.
  • Regardless of the chosen method, ensure your return is filed by the deadline to avoid potential penalties.

Additional Considerations:

  • Estimated Tax Payments: Corporations must make tax payments yearly to avoid underpayment penalties.
  • These payments are based on an estimated annual tax liability.
  • State and Local Tax Filings: Remember that separate filings with state and local tax authorities might be necessary, depending on location and specific tax regulations.
Determine the Filing Due DateIdentify the deadline based on your corporation’s tax year-end
Gather Necessary DocumentsCompile financial statements, tax records, and supporting documentation
Select the Appropriate FormChoose the correct form based on your corporation’s type and filing requirements 
Complete the Form Accurately and comprehensively provide required information following instructions 
File the Return Submit electronically or by mail before the deadline 
Consider Estimated Tax PaymentsMake periodic estimated payments to avoid underpayment penalties
Be Aware of State and Local FilingsComply with any additional filing requirements in your jurisdiction

Payment of Corporate Tax

Once the tax liability is determined, corporations are responsible for timely payments to the IRS. Various payment options are available, including:

  • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): The preferred method by the IRS, offering efficiency and security.
  • Direct Debit: Allows automatic withdrawal from the corporation’s bank account on the due date.
  • Credit Card: While convenient, credit card payments incur processing fees, which are not tax-deductible for corporations.
  • Check or Money Order: The least preferred method due to slower processing times and potential security risks.

It’s crucial to remember that any outstanding tax liability accrues penalties and interest from the due date until the full payment is received.

Professional Help

While this guide provides a general overview of the corporate tax filing process, navigating the complexities of tax regulations and forms can be challenging. Consider seeking professional help from:

  • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs): These licensed professionals possess extensive knowledge of tax laws and can offer expert guidance on filing, minimizing tax liabilities, and ensuring compliance.
  • Enrolled Agents (EAs): These IRS-authorized individuals can also assist with tax preparation and filing, offering an alternative to CPAs.
  • Tax Attorneys: Consulting with a tax attorney specializing in corporate taxation is advisable for complex situations or potential disputes with the IRS.
Corporate Tax Returns


Filing corporate tax returns is a crucial yet complex responsibility for businesses in the United States. Corporations can confidently approach the filing process by understanding the basic steps, deadlines, and potential pitfalls. Remember, consulting with a qualified tax professional can provide invaluable assistance and ensure accurate and compliant filings, allowing your corporation to focus on its core business activities.