Personal Finance

A Third of Americans File Taxes at the Last Minute. Why That Might Be a Bad Idea


The May 17 deadline for filing 2020 taxes is swiftly approaching.

If you haven't filed your taxes yet, it's time to start.

As many as 33% of Americans procrastinate doing their taxes and wait until the last minute, according to a recent survey by IPX 1031. The reasons taxpayers put it off vary — 40% say filing is too time-consuming, 22% said it's too stressful and another 22% want to make sure they're filing correctly.

Others just aren't in a rush — 10% of respondents said they aren't in a hurry to file because they aren't getting a refund. Six percent are worried they'll owe money.

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This year, many taxpayers have put off filing because the IRS delayed the deadline for individual returns to May 17 from April 15, giving most Americans an additional month.

"Now it's almost May, and you don't have that much time," said Ed Slott, CPA and founder of Ed Slott & Co. "Never wait."

The IRS says it has received nearly 111 million 2020 returns through April 16 and processed more than 100 million. So far, the IRS has sent out more than 73 million refunds, with an average of $2,873.

Important tax changes this year

Filing taxes is extra important this year.

It's the only way to get any refunds you're owed, stimulus checks you were eligible for but didn't receive and to take advantage of 2020 tax breaks such as the earned income and child tax credits, to name a few. Sending your information to the IRS as soon as possible can also protect you from tax fraud.

It's also important to file for the upcoming year. Families with children eligible for the new enhanced child tax credit need to file a 2020 return to receive payments set to start in July. Filing is also an opportunity to easily update your direct deposit information and address in the event further aid is sent to families.

Those who haven't filed yet should submit their information electronically, as it's also the fastest way to have a return processed and get a refund. The IRS said it is taking longer for the agency to handle paper-filed returns, as well as all tax return-related correspondence.

Many can file their federal taxes for free — if your adjusted gross income was less than $72,00 in 2020, you can use the IRS Free File program. Those who made more than $72,000 can also file for free through the IRS fillable forms, but they have to prepare their taxes without electronic assistance.

Deadlines are extra important if you owe

The filing deadline is most important for those who may owe the IRS money. If you're owed a refund, the deadline is less of an issue if you aren't anxiously awaiting getting your money back, according to Adam Markowitz, an enrolled agent with Howard L Markowitz PA CPA in Leesburg, Florida.

Taxpayers owed a refund can claim it up to three years after the filing deadline by submitting a tax return for that year to the IRS.

While filing is the fastest way to get your refund, the IRS has experienced delays in processing and sending money this year. Generally, tax refunds are issued within 21 days, but this year might take additional time to review, according to the agency.

If you owe the taxman, it's important you stick to the filing deadline to avoid paying penalties and late fees. Even if you apply for a six-month extension, the deadline to pay the IRS is still May 17.

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