If You’re Stressed Because You Haven’t Done Your Taxes Yet, Experts Say You’re Not Alone

When Sarah Shemkus does her taxes, she says she waits “until the absolute last minute to delay the pain.” Doing her taxes and facing the possibility of owing money is just too stressful.

Every year, Shemkus tells herself she will do her taxes earlier, but tackling them before mid-April “just seems too soon, emotionally, financially,” she says. “It is invariably a terrible couple of days … It’s become a self-perpetuating cycle.”

She’s not alone, though — tax time is stressful for almost everyone. That stress is often compounded for people who wait until the last minute to file.

The stress can be self-perpetuating

Dr. Sammie LaMont Moss, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, says that money management, including taxes, is one of the top issues his patients cite as stressors. He says the stress gets worse as tax day approaches, regardless of the reason for the procrastination.

When it comes to filing taxes, people “can get caught in a thought loop and often overthink in these situations,” Dr. Moss says. This can lead to procrastination. According to Dr. Moss, some people put off filing taxes because they are worried that they will owe a lot of money, while others fear the unknown and are anxious about not knowing whether they will owe taxes or get a refund.

Others are stressed about the strict deadline for filing taxes. Their anxiety increases as the deadline approaches, even if they aren’t worried about anything else. People who have had a surprise tax bill or other negative experiences with taxes in the past can experience “indecision and unnecessary worrying,” says Dr. Moss.

Adam Kol, a tax attorney and certified financial therapist, says that many people “are simply overwhelmed by the entire process.” Just getting forms and necessary documents in order can be a significant task on its own, he says. Once the paperwork is in order, “that’s only the start, as you still need to figure out what to do with all that information,” he says.

Tax stress can spill out into the rest of your life

Kol explains that this stress often makes late filers “want to stay far away from taxes.” The stress of filing late can spill over into other parts of life. When it comes to procrastinators, he says that stress “sometimes leads them to avoid their finances overall, which can cause trouble.”

“The stress can also spill out into their mood and relationship, which can lead to tension or fighting,” he explains.

Armine Alajian, a CPA, regularly has clients that wait until the last minute to deal with their taxes. This stress sometimes “manifests into anger and aggression,” she says. Alajian finds that some clients procrastinate because they are afraid they don’t have the right paperwork or are worried that they won’t have enough money to pay what they owe. “At the end of the day, filing taxes is emotional for some people, and that’s something that I have an understanding of from working with my clients,” she says.

Tax stress can make things harder for your accountant

Alajian says that late filers who use accountants sometimes add to their stress by expecting that their accountant will be able to file their taxes last minute. This is true even when late filers show up with disorganized paperwork, aren’t responsive to requests from their accountant, and aren’t honest if they won’t be able to meet the filing deadline.

As an accountant Alajian says that her role is “in a sense, the mailman.” She explains that she gives her clients the information that they need to file their taxes, but “if they don’t have the proper paperwork for me to help them, there’s nothing I can do,” she says. To reduce this type of stress, “just communicate your needs so everyone is on the same page.”

How you can keep the stress under control

To avoid the stress of late filing, Alajian recommends keeping documents organized throughout the year, being aware of what type of documents you need to file taxes (including 1099 and W-2 forms), estimating how much you will owe in taxes before filing, and starting to prepare taxes in mid-February. “The more you do throughout the year to stay organized, the less stressed you’ll feel when tax season rolls around,” she says.

If none of that works, Kol says that depending on the situation, a late filer may be able to get an automatic six-month extension — but they must submit a request to the IRS.

Dr. Moss encourages stressed-out late fillers to have perspective and recognize that things probably aren’t as bad as they think. “We, as humans, have an ability to make things much more frightening in our heads than they are in reality,” he says. “People need to know that what they are experiencing with anxiety from taxes is nothing new and they are not the first nor the last person to experience it.” The good news is there are solutions and there are steps all taxpayers can do to make things easier for themselves next year, he says.

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/experts-say-stress-doing-taxes-late-manageable-2023-3