7 Tricks to Help Make Doing Taxes a More Calming Experience

It's time to stop stressing once and for all.

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Let’s be honest: Tax season is the worst. While it has the potential to be totally manageable, more often than not, the very process of preparing and submitting taxes is filled with stress and chaos. While there are simple things you can do to make filing a bit more of a calming experience—like streaming your favorite TV shows in the background; putting on your favorite music; and filling the room with scents of calmer, more relaxing times—we chatted with a tax expert and two therapists for the top tricks to make tax season less of a stressor. Check them out below.

How to have a more calming experience while you do your taxes:

1. Go over last year’s tax return beforehand.

Accredited tax advisor and preparer Abby Eisenkraft of Choice Tax Solutions Inc. says her top tip is to actually sit down and read the prior year’s tax return to get ahead of the stress. “This way, you’ll be aware of any changes and documents you still need to chase down,” she says.

2. Keep your records organized.

Eisenkraft suggests keeping everything that’s been inscribed with “Important tax document” in one specific location in your house—even if you don’t open it right away.

“You should [receive] almost every [document] by January 31, with some brokerage statements coming in the middle of February,” she says. “If you’re self-employed, you should make a list of all of your contractor work and [invoices] to compare to the 1099s you receive.” While a 1099 form will only be provided if you made over $600 from the company as an independent contractor, it’s important to remember that, whether or not a 1099 form has been sent to you, all income is taxable.

3. Hire a tax professional.

If you don’t feel fully versed in tax rhetoric, especially if you’re a freelancer, it’s best to work with a professional. “You may not be on top of the new tax laws, but a good tax pro will be,” Eisenkraft says. This is especially true if you plan on submitting deductions or had a lot of changes happen last year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (i.e. like moving or switching/losing jobs). Luckily, there are plenty of places you can consult with a tax expert first before you decide to take the plunge. And even though it can be expensive to hire a professional, at least you won’t have to worry about being audited.

4. Complete your taxes in advance.

“Waiting until the last minute [to complete your taxes] never works,” Eisenkraft says. “No good tax professional will be available, and if you’re missing documents, you will need the time to chase them down.” That said, she recommends starting early, and if you need an extension, do it sooner rather than later and estimate any tax owed. “[This] is better than waiting until 11:15 p.m. to start working on your taxes and thinking you’ll get it done correctly,” she adds. The good news is, Tax Day got pushed back to May 17th, so you have a bit more time to get your paperwork together.

5. Prepare for your taxes throughout the year.

This is especially important if you’re self-employed and will owe money. According to clinical psychologist and founder of Strong In Therapy, Dr. Marianna Strongin, the most stressful part of tax season often has to do with not having everything prepared in time.

“People struggle with deadlines and create unnecessary stress for themselves by simply not following through,” she says. Instead, Dr. Strongin suggests simply planning ahead of time and checking in every quarter to make sure your numbers are solid. Rather than feel stressed, embrace being in control. “Start way ahead of tax season and assign small assignments for yourself [throughout the year] so that Tax Day doesn’t creep up on you,” she adds.

6. Take a deep breath.

“Breathe,” New York City-based psychotherapist Risha Nathan tells HelloGiggles. “Just deal with today, this moment and what’s within your control.” When people start to analyze hypothetical futures and all the things that could potentially go wrong, she says it’s nearly inevitable that a spiral of worry will develop. So instead, take a deep breath and focus on the physical number crunching task at hand.

“The best way to calm down is to focus on the physical first,” Nathan explains. “Calming the nervous system and physical body down brings people back to a neutral state that will allow for working through emotional difficulties.”

7. Remember that at the end of the day it’s just taxes.

“When I first started my business and realized I needed an accountant, I spoke with someone about all my stress around student loan debt, business expenses, living costs, and so on,” Nathan shares. “I talked about how overwhelming it was on a constant basis and she looked at me and said: ‘At the end of the day, it’s just money.’ That has stuck with me and I think it’s important to remember when overwhelming things come up [during tax season]. Because it’s not what’s happening, but how you react to it and deal with it that becomes productive or problematic.”

Taxes are stressful, but Nathan reminds us that the more you plan around them throughout the year, the simpler they will be to complete when it comes time to do them. And remember: Even if you owe money, the IRS tends to be pretty decent about payment plans and will work with people who make good attempts at paying owed fees.

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