It’s Time to File Your Taxes—Don’t Panic!
Are you ready for tax season? If you’re overwhelmed just thinking about paperwork, forms, and deadlines, you’re not alone. Whether you hope for a refund or expect to owe the IRS money, don’t panic. Make a plan that works for you.
Make your tax prep plan
“People without ADHD often feel overwhelmed and anxious about getting taxes done,” says Kelly Deering, founder of Deering Financial Services. “When you have executive functioning issues that affect planning, organizing, time management, focus, memory, and decision-making, it makes it that much more of a challenge.”
Her tip? Get a calendar and work backward. Set mini-deadlines, including a date for getting paperwork together and another date for buying tax software or meeting with a tax preparer. Mark a target date for getting all your information into the program or to the preparer. Then set a final target date for wrapping everything up–preferably before April 15, so you’re not in a rush.
Of course, you’ll need to hang on to the required paperwork: forms from your employer, bank, and mortgage holder if you own property. Some will come in the postal mail and others via email. Ms. Deering says it’s a good idea to keep them all in one format, and that simple is better. If you prefer paper, print out whatever came to you electronically; if you’d rather have everything online, scan in anything that came on paper. Store everything in either a brightly colored folder—so it’s easy to find—or a designated tax folder on your computer desktop. Don’t worry too much about sorting the forms, just keep them all gathered in one spot.
Get help with filing
The good news about filing your taxes is that there’s plenty of help. You can work with a free software program or a volunteer. You can also work with a professional tax preparer.
Several popular tax preparing companies offer affordable software programs. These programs take you through the process so you’re less likely to miss an important step or a chance at a deduction. They also allow you to save your form if you’re missing some information. That way you can go back and include those numbers after locating the needed information. Once you’ve finished, the software reviews everything, flags errors, and asks for missing information. Most programs also offer live phone help for free or a small fee and will transfer everything to a state form so you can file federal and state taxes at one time.
If you’re overwhelmed by unfamiliar software or don’t like working on a computer, working with a professional is probably your best choice. It’s not too late to find a tax preparer, but make an appointment as soon as possible. That way, you’re on that person’s schedule and now have a hard deadline to work toward.
“If you owe that information to someone else, they’re going to hold you accountable for getting it done,” Ms. Deering says. The tax preparer will likely send a checklist of information needed to complete your taxes, she added. Since many tax pros charge by the hour, being organized when dealing with one will also save you money.
Need an extension?
There’s a risk that an extension will become a procrastination tool, but for anyone who is running out of time, filing for one is a perfectly acceptable choice. An extension gives you extra time to file—you’ll have till October 15—but it doesn’t give you extra time to pay.
“If you know you’re going to miss the deadline, file for an extension—it’s a very simple form,” explains Ms. Deering. “If you think you’re going to owe, you still need to make a payment, but if you file the extension, you avoid any penalties related to filing late.”
Think ahead to next year
Take a few minutes now to organize for next year. Start a new folder, either physical or digital, for 2020. Keep a copy of this year’s final tax form in it as a starting point for next year. As the year goes along, include in the folder everything you’ll need next year, such as acknowledgements for charitable donations and copies of property tax bills. Just keep the information there and don’t worry about sorting it.
“Develop a simple system that can be used all year to tame the paperwork beast,” suggests Kim Proud, president of the The Kael Company, a bookkeeping company for small businesses. “The most important lesson from experience I can share is not to be embarrassed—bookkeeping is a special skill.”
Those skills can be strengthened by using a money management program such as Quicken, Moneyspire, or YNAB. You’ll be able to track your finances throughout the year—and many programs transfer data to electronic tax forms with the push of a button.
Whatever you decide, choose the approach you are most likely to use. You’ll thank yourself when next year’s tax season rolls around.
Looking for more?
- Tax Prep Checklist: What to Gather Before Filing
- Choosing a Tax Professional
- Need More Time on Taxes? Learn How to Get an Extension
- AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program
- Don’t Let ADHD Get in the Way of Tax Time
Join the discussion: Do you have any tips that make tax filing easier?