The Procrastinator’s Guide to Last-Minute Tax Prep

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This article, written by Stephanie Taylor Christensen, was originally published on Citi’s Women & Co.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reports that it already issued more than 40 million refunds for the 2013 tax year as of Feb. 27, 2014. But what if you’re still trying to find the time (or motivation) to sit down and tackle your return by April 15? Here are a few simple ways to streamline your filing, and stop procrastinating.

Get organized.

Doing your taxes will be a much less onerous task if you get organized before the day you actually plan to file. Certified public accountant (CPA) Maryann T. Reyes of accounting firm WeiserMazars suggests using your 2012 return as a guide: Take a look at the credits and deductions you’ve taken in the past, and locate the corresponding paperwork/receipts to substantiate those claims if they’re likely to apply again. If you had a “life event”—like marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, a move for work—or you bought or sold property, it may have tax implications. If you’re unsure, consult the IRS tax interview sheet to get a sense of which circumstances do in fact impact taxes so you’ll have time to obtain the pertinent documentation you need to begin the filing process.

Max out.

Provided you meet the qualifications for the deductions (which include having earned income, not exceeding certain income thresholds, and being younger than 70 years old), you may qualify to make up to $5,500 of tax deductible contributions to an IRA, ROTH IRA, or some combination of the two, right up until April 15, notes Thomas Scanlon, CPA at Borgida & Company. Additionally, he says you can fund a 2013 health savings account (a family can contribute up to $6,450 on a pre-tax basis) until the same deadline. Self-employed filers can also contribute up to 25% of compensation to a SEP IRA (not to exceed $51,000 for 2013). “The SEP contribution doesn’t have to be funded until the due date of the return, including extensions,” adds Scanlon.

Zero in.

Once you’ve gathered your documents, schedule time on your calendar when you’ll have several hours without any other commitments so you can focus solely on the task of preparing and filing. “If you give your undivided attention, you will complete your tax return much more quickly, and the process will seem much less overwhelming,” says Reyes, who points out that the most frequent tax-filing errors are due to basic typos (like wrong Social Security Numbers) and mathematical errors. Take your time, and double checkeverything.

Log on.

Taking advantage of online banking and tax-filing tools can help simplify the process immensely, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. For example, if you’re a Citi customer, you can use the Citi® Mobile App to search for transactions made through your checking, savings, and credit card accounts over the course of the year that may qualify for additional tax deductions, such as moving costs, work-related expenses not reimbursed by your employer, and charitable donations. Also: tax filers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) was less than $58,000 in 2013 can file free with the IRS Free File tool.

Don’t submit an inaccurate return just to finish.

If you’re lacking the documents (or time) you need in order to file accurately by the April 15 deadline, the IRS will grant an extension until October 15—but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for six more months. “You’ll still need to estimate taxes owed,” warns Reyes. “Any balance due is payable with your extension application on April 15.”

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