How to Make Tax Season Less Stressful

two women reviewing financial documents

There are many times during the year that can induce stress in people’s lives. The holiday season. Moving. An important work deadline. But a day that almost everyone considers universally stressful? Income Tax Day.

While taxes can be confusing and time-consuming, tax time doesn’t necessarily have to be taxing. Stick to these tips to get you through tax time quickly, smoothly and without any spike in your blood pressure.

Start before tax season

The arrival of April 15 may not seem so intimidating if you have properly prepared. Keep all your physical documents in one place, like in a drawer in a home office or at a computer desk. Designate a folder on your computer for online transactions; you can keep confirmation numbers and email receipts for purchases and donations here.

Using an organization system for your documents, physical or digital, is a great way to avoid any surprises or last minute scrambling for receipts or W2s.

Get tax help – for free!

When managing your taxes seems insurmountable, sometimes it’s best to call in a professional. This is even more important if you’ve had a major life change in the past year, such as getting married, becoming a parent, buying a house, or starting a business. Usually a professional can find deductions that you might miss if you tackle taxes on your own. If there are any mistakes, the firm may shoulder the responsibility instead of you. Try to find a tax preparer that is available for a mid-year review so you can  get a jump start and avoid any possible surprises when April rolls around.

If you feel confident in your filing abilities, or prefer to go the DIY route, you can check local community centers or colleges to see if they’re holding any tax clinics as these are often free. You can even get tax advice from the comfort of your own home as there are plenty of tax services online, free or paid. Just be sure to do your research and make sure they’re reputable.

Maintain tax data all year

While it’s easy to procrastinate filing your taxes, it is beneficial for you to avoid waiting until the last minute. Rushing may result in costly mistakes, like filling the form out incorrectly or  missing out on possible savings. If you’re using a preparer, don’t wait until the week leading up to April 15 to make an appointment, as many may have stopped seeing clients.

Another way to keep up with your taxes is to opt for the monthly income tax withdrawal option. You’ll have to tighten your budget during the year, but it does help ensure you won’t owe money when tax day rolls around—as long as you filed correctly last year.

Utilize the IRS website

If you need any additional tax advice or assistance, you can always go right to the IRS website. Start in their How to File section on the IRS’s site and use it as a go-to source for filing tips, forms, deadlines, tax tools, news and a calculator that can help you determine your withholdings. Head straight to the part of the site that provides information, limitations, deductions and credits according to your taxpayer situation, whether you’re an employee, self-employed, a parent, student, retiree and so on.

If you need additional help, you may qualify for free tax preparation in your community. Taxpayers who make $51,000 or less can participate in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which is run by helpful tax experts in your community. You can find the VITA location nearest you on the IRS site. There are also special VITA services offered to military personnel. You can find more about that on the Military OneSource.

Even if your income exceeds the $51,000 limit, you can still drop in to one of the IRS volunteer centers for face-to-face answers to a question or two. And if you run into tax trouble or get audited, you are entitled to a free tax advocate through the IRS as well.

Show your age

Regardless of income level, senior filers age 60 or older can get help through the IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program, which is also run by volunteers on a community level that specialize in pension and retirement tax issues. Volunteers working with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are offering free tax-prep help to members of the over-60 set. Find a location near you through the AARP site.

Follow the online experts

The blogosphere can be a great place to find information, if you can find trustworthy tax experts. For example, the Tax Girl blog on Forbes.com is always a fun read.

Most importantly, keep your eyes open for free help where you live. In many communities, local politicians or organizations will sponsor tax-prep aid. Sort through your mailers and read fliers, check the local library and post office, and you may find a nearby organization willing to extend free tax aid.