Leaving things until the last minute is never a great idea, and your taxes are no exception. But if Tax Day (that’s April 18th this year) is bearing down on you and you're still putting off dong your taxes, the professionals have some recommendations.
Get an extension. This is the nearly unanimous advice. If you think you’re not going to be able to get your tax return in by the 18th, the IRS has information here about how to file for additional time to complete your tax return (which you can even do online). This buys you an extra six months to get your tax paperwork filed.
“There’s no cost to doing that and there’s no downside to doing that, meaning it doesn’t increase your audit risk,” says consultant and tax expert Barbara Weltman.
Pay up. Although about 75% of taxpayers wind up getting a refund, according to Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and tax expert with TurboTax, an extension doesn’t get you off the hook for paying your taxes by Tax Day. If you owe money, you’ll be charged penalties and interest on the unpaid amount. If you don’t bother getting the extension, you’ll also be hit with a late filing fee on top of that.
Estimate your obligations. If you’re pretty sure you’ll owe money, you can use the IRS’s estimation tool to get a ballpark idea of what you’ll owe and pay that by April 18 to lessen the late payment fees you’ll have to pay. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay interest of 3% above the federal short-term interest rate, plus a penalty fee of one-half of one percent of what you owe.
Set up a payment plan. “If you do owe money, the IRS is willing to work with people,” Greene-Lewis says. So if you’re procrastinating because you know you owe and don’t have the money, you can set up an installment plan on the IRS site, provided what you owe in taxes, penalties, and interest is less than $50,000.
Use online tools. Not only will it be easier than joining the late-night scrum at the post office on Tax Day, but filing online means you can keep cranking away right up until the deadline. You can use online tools such as IRS Free File or TurboTax to crunch the numbers so you don’t make a math mistake in your haste.
Make qualifying contributions. “Don’t forget — you have up until the April deadline to make a deductible contribution to an IRA, but if you get a filing extension, it doesn’t give you more time,” Weltman says. So if you’re counting on an IRA contribution to lower your tax bill, make sure you take care of that by the 18th too.