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Tax Tips for Procrastinators

Are you a last-minute sort of person? Do you only fill up after that little orange gas pump lights up on your dashboard? Do you wait to tackle that mountain of laundry until you have nothing clean (or even sort of clean) to wear? Hey, we’re not judging.

Procrastination is a real struggle. And if you wait until the very last minute to file your taxes, you’re not alone. About a third of Americans file their taxes in the last two weeks leading up to Tax Day.1

While procrastinating on some things can lead to minor inconveniences (You need more than 3 hours of sleep to function? Really?), procrastinating on your taxes can land you in a real mess.

Some of our Facebook fans learned their lessons about tax-time procrastination the hard way. So, to keep you from making the same mistakes—and to help make tax time less stressful—we’re sharing their stories as well as our top procrastination-fighting tips to help you ace tax season.

You Have to File

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: Ignoring your tax obligation won’t make it go away. 

Tax Day 2024 is April 15. Ready or not, the tax man cometh.

If you know you’ll owe a lot this year and you’re panicking about how you’re going to pay, it’s easy to kick the tax can down the road, but the worst thing you can do is put off filing your return day after day, week after week.

Olga M. made that mistake twice and vows never to let it happen again: “For the past two years we have filed on October 15, late. Why? Because I’ve been unorganized and haven’t prioritized. The results? I’ve wasted $150–200 in interest.”

If you don’t file by Tax Day, here’s what will happen:

  • If you’re getting a refund: You won’t be penalized for failing to file—but Uncle Sam won’t give you your money until you do. You have three years from the original deadline to file and still receive your refund.2 If you don’t file by then, you can kiss your refund goodbye.
  • If you owe taxes: You’ll be charged a failure-to-file penalty of 5% of the taxes owed for each month—or part of a month—that your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%.3 You’ll also be charged interest (currently 3% or higher) on any unpaid taxes.4 If you filed on time but didn’t pay your bill in full, you’ll be charged a late-payment penalty (0.5% up to a max of 25%) and interest on your unpaid taxes starting the date payment is due, even if you filed a tax extension.5

So, what if you can’t pay your tax bill and didn’t file an extension? Work with a tax pro to file as soon as possible! Why? Because the failure-to-file penalty can be 10 times more than the late-payment penalty. Yikes!

The sooner you file, the less you’ll have to pay.

Get Organized

We know digging through piles of clutter to find paperwork or trying to remember long-forgotten passwords to access online records isn’t fun. You’d much rather be doing something else with your free time (trip to the dentist or DMV, anyone?).

But organizing your tax documents is a necessary part of filing your taxes—so why not go ahead and just get it out of the way? It probably won’t take as long to gather everything as you think, and we promise you’ll feel better when it’s done.

Documents you may need to gather:

  • W-2 forms
  • 1099 forms
  • Mortgage interest statements
  • Receipts for tax credits or deductions like charitable giving, childcare and education costs, and medical bills
  • Interest statements or Health Savings Account (HSA) statements

While you’re at it, start a folder for next year’s taxes and file documents as you receive them throughout the year. This tip helped Rachel H. “We’ve procrastinated year after year,” she said “The biggest lesson learned? I need to set up a filing system to keep the receipts I want to find for tax purposes.”

Don’t settle for tax software with hidden fees or agendas. Use one that’s on your side—Ramsey SmartTax.

This past year, Rachel handed over all her tax documents to her CPA months before the deadline.

Once you set up a system to keep all your paperwork and receipts in one place, it’s a lot easier to file your taxes early and with a lot less stress!

Give Yourself a Fake Deadline

Any time you’ve got a big, ugly task staring you in the face, it’s best to get it out of the way as soon as possible. Constantly thinking and worrying about something is often much worse than actually doing it.

Income taxes are no different. You have to fill out the forms and you have to file them, so just grit your teeth (assuming you haven’t just had a root canal) and get it over with.

Try giving yourself a fake deadline—well ahead of Tax Day—to help get your taxes done early. And once you file that return, give yourself a small reward for being so efficient and responsible. Catch a movie. Go out for steak and ice cream (as long as it’s in your budget). You’ve earned it! Then relax while everyone else stresses out about getting their taxes done on time.

But heads up here: If you’re expecting a refund, don’t get excited and go on a shopping spree before you even get the money.

And don’t fall for one of those sketchy refund advance loans that some tax software companies are pushing on their users (we’re looking at you, TurboTax and H&R Block). These refund advance loans come with hidden fee landmines scattered all throughout the fine print. No thanks!

Make Time to Itemize

The clock is ticking. So, just to be done with your taxes, you take the standard deduction, because who has time to itemize? And honestly, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act about doubled the standard deduction, so it may not make sense for everyone to itemize their deductions.

But it is possible that your expenses add up to more than the standard deduction, which would make itemizing your best bet. Why? Because every deduction you claim reduces the amount of income you’re taxed on, lowering your tax bill. And while it might not make sense to itemize on your federal taxes, itemizing on your state taxes could save you a nice chunk of change.

Want help itemizing your deductions? Ask an experienced tax advisor for advice. But keep in mind that the longer you wait, the harder it may be to get someone to help. All the good ones may be booked through the end of tax season. Just another reason why procrastination is not your friend, especially when it comes to getting your taxes done!

Avoid Processing Delays

The IRS had a dumpster fire on its hands during the 2023 tax season. At the end of May, the agency still had 2.4 million unprocessed tax returns.6

Thousands of taxpayers waited months and months to get their tax refunds. A lot of that was because of the avalanche of paperwork that the IRS had to go through manually.

Their solution? Don’t procrastinate on filing your taxes. File early, file electronically, and choose to receive your refund via direct deposit.

The sooner you file, the more likely your return will be processed quickly. And if Uncle Sam owes you this year, you’ll receive your refund more quickly than if you procrastinate and your tax return gets buried in an avalanche of late returns.

Get an Extension

If you start now, you should have time to file your taxes. But if you’re missing documentation—or something other than procrastination keeps you from hitting the deadline—you can request a six-month extension. Simply fill out IRS Form 4868 and submit it to the IRS by Tax Day.

But fair warning: An extension doesn’t buy you more time to pay your tax bill. It simply gives you more time to file. When you request an extension, you must estimate your tax liability (if any) and send payment with your request. If you don’t, you’ll be charged penalties and interest on the amount you owe after Tax Day.

Can’t cover it all by the deadline? Pay as much as you can when you file for an extension and try to knock out the balance before the IRS contacts you, which usually takes 30–60 days. If you can’t pay it off by then, you can apply for a payment plan. And good news—you can set up the plan on the IRS website without having to call and wait on hold for hours!

File Your Taxes With Confidence

If you need budget-friendly tax software to file your taxes on your own, Ramsey SmartTax is simple software with no hidden fees.

But if your taxes are a little more complicated and you feel like you need a tax expert, a RamseyTrusted tax pro can help you file with confidence the first time. They know the tax code, so you don’t have to worry about knowing it yourself.


Next Steps

  • Ready to get started? Our free tax preparation checklists can help you gather the right tax documents so you get organized and are ready to file with confidence!
  • If you have a simple tax situation and feel comfortable filing yourself, check out Ramsey SmartTax. It’s our user-friendly software that can help you check “file taxes” off your to-do list earlier than ever this year!
  • Need some one-on-one guidance? No problem! Our RamseyTrusted tax pros bring years of tax experience to the table. They can help you avoid the stress of filing last-minute.
Fing a tax pro

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  • All major income types and federal forms
  • Prepare, print and e-file
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Everything in Classic plus:

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About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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