What To Know If You Procrastinated On Your Taxes

by Madeleine Aggeler
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Taxes. They're one of life's two certainties. Every year we tell ourselves that we're adults now, that we're going to be more organized, that we're going to file our taxes in January and put our return into retirement savings instead of blowing it all on whimsical throw pillows and Seamless orders. And every year on April 15th we wake up and think: "Shoot, that was today?!"

If you’ve waited until the last minute to file your taxes, don't panic. You're not alone. According to the IRS, 20 to 25 percent of Americans wait until the last minute to file their taxes, and in 2016, 12 million tax returns were submitted in the week following Tax Day on April 15. This year returns are coming in even more slowly. In March, the IRS reported that it had received 5.7 million fewer individual returns than at a comparable point last year, an 8.5 percent drop. Some tax professionals have attributed these numbers in part to anxiety about the Trump presidency, specifically his immigration initiatives, which have made undocumented immigrants more hesitant to file, and confusion about potential tax cuts.

Still, you have to file your taxes. If you don't, truth be told, you probably won’t get in trouble for a while. But when the IRS realizes you've failed to file, you'll be trapped under mountains of soul-sucking paperwork, and because the IRS charges a penalty of up to 25 percent of whatever you owe, you'll also end up paying way more than you would have in the first place.

So, before you hit up Tax Day protests, here are a couple of things to keep in mind when filing at the last minute.

Don't bother with paper returns.

When I first filed my tax returns, I was terrified. In movies, when people file their taxes they always seem to be sweaty and harried and surrounded by mountains of old bills and receipts. When I told my parents I was saving all of my pay stubs and receipts for tax season they looked at me like I was an alien and said, "That'’s all online now…"

Filing your taxes online through free e-filing services (like H&R Block, TurboTax, or the IRS itself) isn't only faster, it can reduce your chance of making a mistake by 20 percent — and because the software does the calculations for you, you don't need to worry about the math. Plus, by filing your taxes online, you create a permanent electronic record that you can refer to or use in the future.

If you have to, file for an extension.

If you were totally caught off-guard this year and don't have all the numbers or paperwork you need to file today, you can file for an extension. As long as you submit IRS form 4868 by April 18, you can get an automatic six month extension which will allow you to get all of your ducks in a row.

BUT, keep in mind: while you can receive an extension for your tax return, your taxes themselves are still due on April 15. This means that if you don't pay the amount owed by tax day, you could be subject to late payment fees and penalties.