Finish Your Taxes in an Hour or Less

All that early effort pays off when it’s time to file

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
An illustration depicting people taking on a variety of personal finance tasks.

The Balance

Completing your tax return might well be one of your most praiseworthy personal accomplishments of the year.

The IRS estimated that the average time burden for all taxpayers was about 12 hours to prepare their 2020 tax return. After that, you’ll be ready to file that return with the IRS.

Get a Free Review

Maybe you think your completed return is a work of art, but it never hurts to have a tax-savvy professional look it over before you send it off.

You can visit one of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) offices if you meet at least one of the following qualifications: 

  • Your income is $57,000 or less as of the 2020 tax year.
  • English is your second language.
  • You’re a senior citizen.
  • You’re disabled.

The IRS provides a search tool online to help you find a VITA location near you, with a warning that some might still be closed in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The IRS also offers Taxpayer Assistance Centers, which are intended to provide taxpayers with free personal tax help (and several other IRS services). They’ll be happy to review your return for you, but you must call ahead and make an appointment.

A state-by-state list of offices is available on the IRS website, along with contact information and each office’s status during the coronavirus pandemic.  

If you used tax return preparation software, you can probably feel pretty confident that your return was prepared correctly. These programs will have made all deduction and other decisions for you based on your answers to the software’s questions.

File Your Taxes

You’re not done quite yet when your return receives a stamp of approval from a knowledgeable reviewer. Now you have to figure out how you’re going to get your return to the IRS.  


E-filing is by far your simplest option. The IRS obligingly provides a search tool for e-file providers in your area, and tax preparation software will take care of this detail for you if you use it.

Otherwise, if you mail a physical copy of your return, IRS staff will have to enter it into the agency’s computer system, which can take up to four weeks, delaying your refund.  

Getting Your Refund

As for that refund you’re expecting, you can request direct deposit to your bank account listed on your tax return. Just enter your account number, the type of account, and your bank’s routing number on lines 35b, 35c, and 35d of your 2020 Form 1040 to avoid the painful process of waiting for a paper check to arrive in the mail.

The IRS says that a taxpayer can expect their refund within 21 days of the IRS acceptance of the return, although you may have one sooner if you file early, or you may wait a bit longer if you file at the height of the tax season, which usually hits in March. 

If you live in Texas, Louisiana, or Oklahoma, you have until June 15, 2021, to file your 2020 tax return. This is a one-time extension provided by the IRS in response to the 2021 winter storms. Taxpayers in other areas have until May 17, 2021, to file their individual federal 2020 taxes.

Paying What You Owe

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the IRS provides a variety of ways to remit payment if taxpayers don’t want to snail-mail paper checks.

You can pay via debit from your bank account on the Direct Pay website or use a payment processor if you want to pay with a credit card, for a small fee. The IRS has a webpage for this option, too. 

Next Steps and More Resources

That’s it! You’re done!

If you’ve made it this far in The Balance’s New Year New Money program and followed every step in the series, you’ve set up a plan to reduce or eliminate credit card debt, you’ve begun a short-term savings plan and maybe a long-term one, you’ve created a budget and started following it, and you’ve gotten a head start on your taxes.

Take a deep breath. It’s been a busy month.