Are you a last-minute sort of person? Do you only fill up after that little orange gas pump lights up on your dashboard? Do you wait to tackle that mountain of laundry until you have nothing clean (or even sort of clean) to wear? Hey, we’re not judging.
Procrastination is a real struggle. And if you wait until the very last minute to file your taxes, you’re not alone. About a third of Americans file their taxes in the last two weeks leading up to tax deadline.
While procrastinating on some things can lead to minor inconveniences (you can function on three hours of sleep, right?), procrastinating on your taxes can land you in a real mess.
Some of our Facebook fans learned their lessons about tax-time procrastination the hard way. So, to keep you from making the same mistakes—and to help make tax time less stressful—we’re sharing their stories as well as our tips to help you ace tax season.
You Have to File
For the first time in two years, the tax filing deadline hasn’t been extended due to COVID-19. Tax Day is April 18 this year.2
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Ignoring your tax obligation won’t make it go away. Olga M. made that mistake twice and vows never to let it happen again: “For the past two years we have filed on October 15, late. Why? Because I’ve been unorganized and haven’t prioritized. The results? I’ve wasted $150–200 in interest.”
If you don’t file by Tax Day, here’s what will happen:
- If you’re getting a refund: You won’t be penalized for failing to file—but Uncle Sam won’t give you your money until you do. You have three years from the original deadline to file and still receive your refund.3 If you don’t file by then, you can kiss your refund goodbye.
- If you owe taxes: You’ll be charged a failure-to-file penalty of 5% of the taxes owed for each month—or part of a month—that your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.4 You’ll also be charged interest (currently about 3%) on any unpaid taxes.5 If you filed on time but didn’t pay your bill in full, you’ll be charged a late-payment penalty (0.5% up to a max of 25%) and interest on your unpaid taxes starting the date payment is due, even if you filed at tax extension.
So, what if you can’t pay your tax bill and didn’t file an extension? Work with a tax pro to file as soon as possible! Why? Because the failure-to-file penalty can be 10 times more than the late-payment penalty. The sooner you file, the less you’ll have to pay!
We know digging through piles of clutter to find paperwork or trying to remember long-forgotten passwords to access online records isn’t fun. You’d much rather be doing something else with your free time (tennis, anyone?). But organizing your tax documents is a necessary part of filing your taxes—so why not go ahead and just get it out of the way? We promise you’ll feel better when it’s done.
Here are a few of the documents you may need to gather:
- W-2 forms
- 1099 forms
- Mortgage interest statements
- Receipts for tax credits or deductions like charitable giving, childcare and education costs, and medical bills
- Interest statements or Health Savings Account (HSA) statements
While you’re at it, start a folder for next year’s taxes and file documents as you receive them throughout the year. This tip helped Rachel H. “We’ve procrastinated year after year,” she said “The biggest lesson learned? I need to set up a filing system to keep the receipts I want to find for tax purposes.”
This past year, Rachel handed over all her tax documents to her CPA months before the deadline.
And once you’re organized, you can even file early.
Don’t know where to start? Our free tax preparation checklist can save you time and help you gather the right documents the first time around.
Waiting Can Cost You Money
The clock is ticking. So, just to be done with your taxes, you take the standard deduction, because who has time to itemize? And honestly, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act about doubled the standard deduction, so it may not make sense for everyone to itemize their deductions.
But it is possible that your expenses add up to more than the standard deduction, which would make itemizing your best bet. Why? Because every deduction you claim reduces the amount of income you’re taxed on, lowering your tax bill. And while it might not make sense to itemize on your federal taxes, itemizing on your state taxes could save you a nice chunk of change.
Want help itemizing your deductions? Ask an experienced tax advisor for advice. But keep in mind that the longer you wait, the harder it may be to get someone to help. All the good ones may be booked through the end of tax season.
Get an Extension
If you start now, you should have time to file your taxes. But if you’re missing documentation—or something other than procrastination keeps you from hitting the deadline—you can request a six-month extension. Simply fill out IRS Form 4868 and submit it to the IRS by Tax Day.
But fair warning: An extension doesn’t buy you more time to pay your tax bill. It simply gives you more time to file. When you request an extension, you must estimate your tax liability (if any) and send payment with your request. If you don’t, you’ll be charged penalties and interest on the amount you owe after Tax Day.
Can’t cover it all by the deadline? Pay as much as you can when you file for an extension and try to knock out the balance before the IRS contacts you, which usually takes 30–60 days. If you can’t pay it off by then, you can apply for a payment plan. And good news—you can set up the plan on the IRS website without having to call and wait on hold for hours!
Written by: Ramsey Solutions