5 reasons you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to file taxes

Young man at desk, procrastinating by playing with a toy bicycle instead of working on his laptop to file his tax return.Image: Young man at desk, procrastinating by playing with a toy bicycle instead of working on his laptop to file his tax return.

In a Nutshell

While doing your income taxes may never be your favorite activity, there are good reasons why you shouldn’t wait to the last minute to file your taxes.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and reviewed by Christina Taylor, MBA, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma.

Doing your taxes might seem like the financial equivalent of a root canal, but there are many reasons why you shouldn’t wait to the last minute to file taxes.

Compromising on accuracy, discovering you don’t have all the paperwork you need or even missing the filing deadline are among the risks you face if you procrastinate on doing your income taxes. Delaying won’t make the task take any less time, either.

How long does it take to file taxes?

Yes, someone actually invested the time to figure out how long it takes to file taxes.

According to the IRS, it takes the average person about 15 hours to file a 1040 tax form — the one 69 percent of filers use. Those 15 hours include:

  • Seven hours on record keeping
  • Two hours on tax planning
  • Four hours completing the form and submitting it
  • An hour on other tax-related activities

Even the easiest tax forms take a while. A 1040EZ, which is the most basic tax return, takes five hours for the whole process. Three of those hours are spent on completing the form itself. That’s still a long time for one task that’s supposed to be “EZ.”

Why you shouldn’t wait until the last minute

Now that you know how long it could take to file your taxes, aren’t you eager to get started? Still not convinced? Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t wait until April to file:

1. It’s a long process

In the U.S., preparing and filing taxes isn’t a quick process. A lot more goes into filing taxes than just filling out the form and submitting it to the IRS. Unless you’ve kept on top of it all year, you’ll have a year’s worth of information and tax-related forms to organize. You may find you’re missing information or documents you need in order to complete your tax return.

2. You could get your refund faster

The longer you wait to file, the later you’ll get your refund. If you file in February or March, the IRS may turn it around more quickly because it isn’t as busy. Americans are procrastinators when it comes to taxes — more than 20 million Americans wait until the last week to file. The IRS says it issues nine out of 10 refunds within 21 days of receiving a return. Don’t wait until the last minute to file taxes like the procrastinators if you want to get your return in a timely fashion.

3. Don’t risk being late

Procrastinating may work in other aspects of your life, but it’s not a good habit when it comes to filing taxes.

Let’s say you plan on spending the final weekend before the filing deadline on your taxes. That weekend comes and you have a family emergency. Or maybe your basement floods from heavy springtime rain. Or you get tickets to a baseball game.

Life could get in the way of your last-minute plans and prevent you from meeting the filing deadline. If you miss the deadline, you’ll still have to file your taxes, but you could face penalties and interest for being late.

4. You might have issues preparing your taxes

You’ve done your taxes every year, so there won’t ever be any issues, right? Wrong.

You might not know if you’re missing important documents until you dive into your taxes. Or you may find a deduction you took last year that saved you a lot of money isn’t available to you this year — and you need to find another deduction, pronto.

Instead, collect your tax information in a folder throughout the year and plan to spend time well before April to prepare your taxes.

5. Haste makes waste

Old sayings stay around for generations because they’re usually right. When it comes to waiting to the last minute to file taxes, the saying “haste makes waste” often applies.

When you rush, you’re more likely to feel stressed, and stress can lead to mistakes. You could provide wrong information, forget to include an income source or even jot down the wrong Social Security number.

Tips for faster filing

By the end of February, you should have most, if not all, the tax forms you need to file your income tax return. The IRS requires employers to send your W-2 to you by Jan. 31 every year, and if you’re self-employed, anyone who owes you a 1099 is supposed to have it to you by Feb. 15.

Organize tax documents in a folder as you receive them throughout the year. As soon as you have everything you need, start preparing your tax return. E-filing gets your tax return to the IRS faster, and could result in getting your refund sooner as well.

If your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less, you can use the IRS Free File. If you made more than that, or if you just want a little extra guidance in e-filing your taxes regardless of how much you earned.

Bottom line

Tax preparation should never be a last-minute task. If you put some time into planning and organizing throughout the year, and start preparing your return as soon as you’re able rather than waiting to file taxes, you could find tax season a whole lot less stressful.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She co-developed an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Les Masterson has covered presidential politics, local government, personal finance, credit cards, insurance, healthcare and everything in between in his 20-plus years in journalism and content creation. He has won aw… Read more.