How to Do Your Taxes When You're Getting a Late Start

Stay calm. You can get through this. We have practical tips to help you keep your sanity while filing your taxes late in the game.


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Tax Day Is Almost Here & You Are Not Ready

Woman looking frustrated at tax paperwork

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

It happened again.

You noticed when your W-2s arrived in the mail. You saw the student loan interest statements. You clicked on the emails from your bank reminding you that yearly tax info was available.

But you didn’t do anything. Until now, when tax day is quickly approaching.

Even if tax day is right around the corner (this year it’s Tuesday, April 17), panicking doesn’t help those taxes get filed. Stay calm and make a plan. Remember, the post office is open until midnight on tax day to help people like you.


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Make a Plan

Tax documents and calculator

Photo by The Wilde Project/Jay Wilde

Photo by The Wilde Project/Jay Wilde

Procrastinators, have faith. You can get through this quickly and in a way that is manageable. But planning ahead can make this financial task more bearable.

You might set aside an entire Saturday to get organized and plow through every step.

Or you may feel less stressed if you break the process up over a few nights, like this:

Evening 1: Find/gather all related paperwork.

Evening 2: Start your filing process by signing up with a tax preparation provider or doing a practice run on paper.

Evening 3: Finalize questions and file away!

There’s no right or wrong way to tackle your taxes, as long as you get them done. Don’t fight whatever impulses and gut instincts you have when you’re thinking about how to approach your taxes. If you’d rather pull an all-nighter to trudge through than face the job over the entire weekend, go for it.


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Get Organized

Woman with file folder

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Gather up all your documents in one place. Make three lists:

  • One for what you have
  • One for what you need
  • One for any calculations you’ll need to make—say, adding up medical expenses

You have my permission to raid the kids’ craft supplies to make this a more enjoyable experience. Color-coded file folders? Go for it. Sticky notes? Bring ‘em. Maybe skip the glitter.

Take time to get your paperwork and scratch pads in order before you start doing the work of preparing to file your taxes. As you may have experienced, getting up from the table to look for that one other piece of paperwork can lead to folding laundry, helping with homework, or falling victim to the call of the couch and TV.

Getting organized now will help you stay determined to finish off those taxes once and for all! (OK, at least until next spring.)


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Eliminate Distractions

Daughter washing dishes

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Once you figure out a game plan, it’s time to minimize distractions. Maybe your neighbors can have the kids over on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps an older child can help prepare dinner and take care of the dishes on tax night. Or, maybe ordering pizza sounds like a great option.

Don’t be afraid to make choices to make your life easier during this often-stressful time.


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Banish Stress

Woman on floor with tax papers

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Don’t reach for a glass of wine yet!  You can open a bottle when all the tax math has been completed.

What you can do right now is make your work environment, whether it’s the kitchen table or your home office, as stress-free as possible. Play your favorite music. Brew your favorite coffee or tea. Light a fragrant candle. Put on some sweatpants. If you can get organized easier by spreading your papers out on the floor, do it.


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Ask Questions

Woman on phone and working on computer

Photo by GARO/PHANIE / Getty Images

Photo by GARO/PHANIE / Getty Images

The only thing worse than procrastination is when you finally get started, but find a question tripping you up and delaying the whole thing.

Missing important tax documents like W-2 forms or interest income? If you can’t find them in your online accounts or never received forms you expected by mail, call the IRS.

Have questions about filing your taxes? The IRS has programs to help.

There’s no embarrassment in phoning a friend, either. Know someone with a side hustle? They may be able to help you with your freelance work questions. Have a baby in the house? A fellow parent may be able to allay your worries about exemptions and deductions.


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Enlist Technological Help

shoeboxed iphone x taxes

If your family’s tax filing needs are straightforward, you can probably get by with basic online filing tools. Most of these ask you questions to guide you through your annual filing, removing a lot of the legalese from the process.

Choose IRS FreeFile program or one of the many free filing services offered by tax preparation companies. State return filing availability varies greatly; there is often a fee to file state taxes online.

Have a more complicated tax return because of life changes—like a marriage, baby, or home purchase—or freelance employment? It may be worth the money to invest in a more complex online tax filing service. These online services typically cost $30 to $75, depending on your needs.


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Take the Extension

IRS building

Photo by Dan Looker

Photo by Dan Looker

If you’re really, truly stuck, there’s no shame in asking for an extension. Doing so gives you six spare months to file a tax return, although you’ll have to pay your estimated tax bill at the time you request the extension.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer and on-air analyst at The Penny Hoarder, where she covers grocery, retail, and consumer affairs.