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Still Procrastinating on Your Taxes? Follow These Steps to File Yours in 3 Days

A stressed person looking through papers and sitting in front of a laptop at a kitchen counter.

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I totally get why you don’t want to file your taxes this year, but the IRS is kind of insistent about it. If the shiny carrot of a refund isn’t enough to motivate you, there’s always the stick of penalties and jail time. But sometimes, the tedium isn’t the only thing stopping you from filing your return.

Doing your taxes can also be confusing, especially if you’ve never done them before. But fear not. Here’s a simple, three-step process you can use to get yours filed fast.

1. Decide how you’re going to file your taxes

You can file taxes yourself using tax-filing software or you can hand them off to a tax professional to do them for you. Both strategies have their pros and cons. Tax-filing software lets you work on your taxes on your own time, and some people may even be able to file their federal tax return for free. Tax professionals, on the other hand, charge a fee but they know how to ensure your taxes are done right and they’ll spare you the work.

Either way, your first step is research. If you’re going with tax software, investigate your options. Most companies have several packages with different services and prices. Some now enable you to speak to a tax professional online if questions come up while you’re filing your return, but this costs extra. Think about the features that matter most to you and compare prices across a few providers before deciding which to use.

When looking for a tax professional, start by checking the IRS’s Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all tax preparers in your area, but it does contain some of the best. Choose a few and give them a call to discuss your needs. Keep in mind that some may not be taking any more clients for the season at this point. Be sure to ask about the cost and how long it will take to file your return before choosing one.

2. Gather your documents

The next step is to gather all your tax documents in one place. What you’ll need is unique to you, but some common items include:

  • W-2s
  • 1099s for self-employed workers and contractors
  • Mortgage loan interest statements
  • Property tax forms
  • Documentation for retirement account contributions
  • Details of estimated taxes paid, if self-employed

You also need documentation for any tax breaks you plan to claim. For example, if you plan to write off a computer you purchased for your startup as a business expense, you need a receipt for the purchase. Or if you’re claiming a tax credit for higher education expenses paid during the year, you’ll need proof of how much you paid.

Gather all of it together in one place and find a folder or envelope to keep it in. You’ll need to hold onto your tax documentation even after submitting your return. You should keep all tax-related documents for at least three years, according to the IRS, and you may want to hold onto them even longer in some cases.

3. File your taxes

If you’re handing off your taxes to someone else, this step is pretty simple. Hand over all your documents and wait for the call saying your return is done.

When you’re doing your own taxes, it’s a little more complicated, but don’t panic. Most tax software these days will ask you simple questions to guide you through your return. They also have help documentation if you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do at a specific step. Just take your time.

When you’re all done, whether you filed taxes yourself or not, give your return a quick review to make sure everything looks alright. Then, you can file them. E-filing is easiest for most people and it’ll help you get your refund the quickest, if you’re eligible for one. But you can also file a paper return if you’re more comfortable doing this.

If you qualify for a refund, you can track it using the Where’s My Refund tool. It should take a few weeks to arrive after the IRS receives your return.

Those who owe the IRS can either write a check and mail it in if they have the cash on hand or explore payment plan options. You can also make an offer in compromise, where you tell the IRS what you can pay. If it agrees, it’ll forgive the remainder of your tax bill.

If you take things one step at a time, you should be able to file your taxes in three days. And if you need a little more than that, that’s OK. Just keep in mind that the tax deadline is April 15, 2024, so you don’t want to put it off for too much longer.

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