Stop procrastinating! Start with these tips for taking on your dreaded tax return.
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Albert Einstein lamented that “the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Though taxes are complex and tedious, the number one reason we dread April 15th is simple: Nobody likes to pay tax.

Here’s how to get over procrastination and take the sting out of doing taxes:

Step 1: Put emotions aside. When we’re stressed out or on high alert, it is much harder for our brains to weigh options, predict consequences, and solve complex problems. No matter how good you are at multi-tasking, it’ll be much harder to think clearly when your brain is engaged in a negative emotional process. Take a deep breath and tell yourself, “This feeling is not helping me. I need to be calm in order to accomplish this task/solve this problem.”

Step 2: Limit conjecture. In clinical terms, this is called “forecasting negative events” or even “catastrophizing.” Abstract fears are impossible to tame because we can’t possibly resolve them. Try to nix the “what if” factor. Tell yourself that you’ll cross each bridge as you come to it.

Step 3: Break big jobs down into smaller parts. Preparing your tax return involves a number of little actions, most of which are quite simple. Remember, in this step, we’re simply identifying and organizing the sub-tasks. Don’t worry about executing them just yet!

Gather your documents. For most people, this includes:

  • W-2 (if you’re an employee)
  • 1099 from your bank (if you received any income from interest on a savings account)
  • Receipts or confirmation letters regarding any charitable donations you made

Depending on your situation, you might also need:

  • Brokerage statement listing dividends you received on any non-retirement accounts
  • Mortgage interest statement from your bank (if you own your own home) and copy of your real estate tax bill
  • Records/receipts from any major medical expenses
  • Documents regarding any purchase/sale of property or other assets

The good news? Most of these items should be mailed to you automatically at the end of January by the institutions involved. If you have not received what you need by mid-February, call to request documentation, or check on the website for your bank or investment account and print the necessary files. Greg Constantino CFP, a financial consultant with Caturano Wealth Managment, recommends creating a folder each year so that you can simply drop these items in as they arrive.

If you feel more comfortable working with a professional, go to a tax preparer such as H&R Block, where prices start around $70 for a simple state and federal return. If you use a financial advisor or licensed CPA (Certified Public Accountant), you’ll probably spend a few hundred dollars. Price will depend on the complexity of your return, the professional’s level of experience, and market prices in your region.

  1. Decide between the above options.
  2. Make an appointment or set a deadline.
  3. Show up!
  4. Deal with the outcome. (Do you owe? Will you get a refund?)

Step 4: Organize these tasks into baby steps. The more stressed you get about taxes, the more you need to slow down and take baby steps. Start early so that you have time between each action. Waiting until the last minute will only fuel anxiety and make the process more miserable.

Maybe next year you’ll move somewhere without income tax (like Monaco!), but you’ll have to put up with paying good old Uncle Sam until then. At any rate, complaining about taxes is a national pastime. As the entertainer Arthur Godfrey said, “I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is – I could be just as proud for half the money.”