Finish Up Your Taxes in an Hour or Less

All That Early Effort Pays Off When It’s Time to File

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 American Action Forum estimates that the average American taxpayer spent about 52 hours on the task in 2019, the last tax year without a coronavirus hiccup affecting the process. Now you’re 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 a few guidelines: 

  • You must have income of $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 heading into 2021 due to the coronavirus. 

The IRS also offers Taxpayer Assistance Centers, which are intended to provide taxpayers with free personal tax help (and several other IRS services besides). 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

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 in a physical copy of your return, IRS staff will have to enter it into the agency’s computer system, and this 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 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 taxpayers can expect their refunds within 21 days of the IRS acceptance of the return, although you may have one sooner if you file early or wait a bit longer if you file at the height of the tax season, which usually hits in March. 

The tax filing deadline is April 15 this year and the IRS hasn’t indicated that there will be an extension similar to the one in 2020.

Or 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

And 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 headstart on your taxes.

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