Honestly, nothing stresses me out like taxes. Whenever I’ve filed them, there’s always some sneaky feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’ve somehow gotten something wrong, or left something out. It makes me very anxious to think that I could potentially get into legal trouble if I were to screw up on my taxes, so, at least in the past year or so, I’ve done everything in my power to make sure I have more than enough saved for them. (My inherent fear of authority was fostered early, probably in fourth grade health class — does it show?)
Taxes also make me anxious because, as a freelancer, I am entirely responsible for doing my own. I do sometimes envy my friends with “real” jobs, whose taxes are taken out for them each paycheck. All they seemingly have to do is spend ten minutes filling out some online forms, and then a few weeks later, they get that sweet, sweet direct-deposit refund.
But at the end of the day, doing my taxes just becomes one of the more annoying parts of a job I mostly love. With only six days left to file taxes (Tax Day is April 18th this year, since the 15th falls on a Saturday), some of us are probably scrambling these last few days to get our shit together. While there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of procrastination if it motivates you to work smarter and faster, no one wants to end up in a situation where they have to pay a penalty just because they filed a few days or weeks late. Even a 5% penalty doesn’t seem that bad, but it’s something that is completely avoidable if you just make sure to file on time. It’s also not advisable to wait until the very last minute to file, and later find out you’ve made a mistake.
But we’re human, and humans sometimes do wait until the last minute to do things. Here are a few late-in-the-game tips for filing your taxes — and setting yourself up for next year.
1. Apply for an extension if you need to. You know who is eligible for a tax extension in the United States? Literally anyone. As long as you apply for an extension (via IRS Tax Form 4868) prior to the April 18th deadline, you can extend your tax filing date for six months. It’s important to note that you still technically owe the IRS your tax payments by April 18th; the extension is merely for filing your return. Read more about filing a tax extension here.
2. Know where you’re filing. If you make less than $64,000 a year, you can actually file your taxes online for free through the IRS website. The IRS offers Free File forms for those who make more than $64,000, though these only give basic guidance (and no state return options). Thankfully, there are several other options for e-filing your taxes; the H&R Block Online Free Edition offers free federal filing for simple tax returns, though it does charge for additional state filings. Another option is TurboTax Online Federal Free Edition, which has a very similar charge structure. Each has additional tax filing options depending on what you need (e.g. homeowner-related deductions or self employment taxes). I’ve personally used TurboTax, and I think it’s very intuitive for people like me, who have several income sources and possible deductions.
3. Decide whether you need to be on a payment plan. If you know you’re going to owe money on your taxes, but don’t have enough to cover the amount by April 18th, there is no shame in going on a payment plan. You can even apply online to pay your taxes in regular monthly payments over time.
4. Have a plan in place for your refund. Because it feels like it’s free money, a lot of people are tempted to blow their entire tax refund on a fancy ~night out~ or an expensive item they’ve been eyeing, but might not really need. Unless you have an incredibly healthy emergency fund and retirement contributions already established, I would encourage you to save it for something important, or use it to pay off debt. And, if you have a plan already in place before you receive your tax refund, you’ll be a lot more likely to do something smart with it. If you need some inspiration, here are a few ideas.
5. Set yourself up for next year. A lot of people I know depend on getting a tax refund every year, and love receiving that large chunk of money to put directly into savings (because maybe they wouldn’t have saved that much on their own throughout the year). Then there are people like my boyfriend, who are borderline incensed about getting a refund — or, in their words, getting their money back after giving the government an interest-free loan. Whether you’d rather have your money all year and break even on your tax return, or receive a big refund to help flesh out your emergency savings, check with your HR department and see how many exemptions you’re currently claiming. You can then decide whether you should be claiming more (if you’re eligible) or fewer.
6. Find a system to save for taxes that works for you. Finally, if you are self-employed, or even do some freelancing as a side hustle, your taxes will look very different than those belonging to someone who works full-time for a traditional corporation and has no additional side income. One is not better or worse than the other, you just have to prepare differently! I’ve started using a savings app called Qapital, which l’ve set up to automatically send a percentage of every paycheck I receive into an account specifically for my taxes. That way, I’m not tempted to spend that money, and risk not having enough in the bank when it comes time to pay my taxes.
- 4 Avoidable Mistakes That Caused Me To Owe $3,200 In Taxes
- The Financial Confessions: “What Happened When I Didn’t Save Any Money For Taxes”
- Everything You Wanted To Know About Taxes But Were Afraid To Ask
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