April 15 strikes fear into the hearts of many Americans, as it’s the traditional day that income tax returns are due. However, this year, the federal income tax filing deadline is being pushed to May 17. Note that this does not apply to state taxes.
If you haven’t started on your taxes yet, just take a deep breath and realize that there are concrete steps you can take to get through the process. If you follow these suggestions every year, you’ll see that even if you get a late start on your taxes, you should have no problem getting them done in plenty of time.
The first critical thing to do if you’re late in starting your taxes is to not panic. Even if it is mid- or even late March, you’ve still got almost two months to get your taxes filed. As long as you get organized and get to it, you’ll finish with time to spare.
According to the IRS, it takes the average American taxpayer about 12 hours to prepare and file their taxes. Let’s say you wait until you’ve got four weeks left until the May 17 deadline. That means you can spread the process out and take just over three hours per week and still get your taxes done in time. If you have a simple tax return, it will take even less time, especially if you’ve filed taxes before in the past. For example, if you filed last year and didn’t have any major life changes, you’ll know to expect the same W-2s or 1099s, and you’ll have at least some idea of how to report them. This will also save you time, so again, don’t panic!
Gather All of Your Documents
Now that you’ve caught your breath, you’ve got to do some of the real work that goes into filing your taxes. The first, critical step is to gather all of your tax documents. The good news if you haven’t filed yet is that you can be pretty sure you’ve already received all of your W-2s, 1099s and any other relevant tax documents. You can’t file your taxes without reporting all of this information, so make sure you collect everything you’ve been sent and request anything that you think may be missing. If you’ve got expenses or potential deductions, you’ll also need to assemble all of your receipts as evidence.
Gathering all of your tax documents is half the battle when it comes to filing taxes, as reporting to the government all of your income and expenses is all that filing a tax return really is. Once you’ve got all of that information in front of you, the next steps are relatively easy.
Use Tax Preparation Software
Tax prep software was a newfangled thing just a few years ago, but now online tax filing is de rigueur. Tax prep software not only makes the process easier and more accurate, but it also saves time, which is important if you haven’t started on your taxes yet.
These days, there are even plenty of free filing options. The IRS has a Free File program for taxpayers with incomes of $72,000 or less, and other IRS-approved e-file providers also have free options. Even some of the well-publicized tax software programs you’re likely familiar with offer a free filing option.
Snag a Free Extension
Even if it’s May 16 and you know there’s no way you can finish your tax return in time, you still don’t have to panic. The IRS understands that sometimes life gets in the way and the May 17 deadline just can’t be met, so it offers all taxpayers a six-month extension to get their tax returns in. You don’t even have to get approved for an extension to file your return, just simply request one before the tax-filing day. You’ll be automatically granted an extension with no questions asked.
An important thing to note about this automatic extension, however, is that you still need to pay the taxes you are going to owe by May 17. Although you don’t have to file your actual return until Oct. 15, the IRS still wants its money by the tax filing deadline. Failure to do so can result in severe penalties, so even if you don’t have time to file your actual return, make sure to send the IRS what you think you’re going to owe.
More From GOBankingRates
- If You Get a Stimulus Check, How Will You Use It? Take Our Poll
- How Long $1 Million in Savings Will Last in Every State
- 30 Essential Money Habits
- 27 Ugly Truths About Retirement