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Haven't done your taxes yet? Don't panic

Tax Preparers Help Last-Minute Filers As Tax Deadline Looms

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A pedestrian walks by an H & R Block office on April 15, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Despite having an extra three days to file your income taxes this year, an estimated 15 to 20 million people will wait to the very last minute to file their taxes with a high number relying on tax preparation services.

Taxpayers are getting a bit more time this year to file their federal income tax returns. It's Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia today — that's the day the slaves were freed in D.C. — so federal offices, including the IRS, are closed. And because April 15 fell on a Sunday, the government has to give taxpayers an extra day. So this year, Tax Day will be Tuesday, April 17. 

That's tomorrow! If you haven't done your taxes yet, don't freak out. There's till time and it's not as big a hassle as you might think. You just need to use technology.

I'm old enough to have filed 1040-EZ forms by hand and both 1040 short and long forms, with a variety of schedules, also by hand. In the mid-1990s, I obtained the services of an accountant and we enjoyed a happy collaboration for around 15 years. But then I decided to go back to doing my taxes myself, mainly because I was bumping up against the deadline and didn't think I'd have time to get everything ready for my tax guy, but also because I was curious about tax-preparation software.

There are numerous services out there. The best-known is probably TurboTax, which is the one I use. I don't buy the software package, as many folks have done in the past (Intuit, the company that developed TurboTax, creates an update every year so that taxpayers are current with tax legislation). Rather, I use the online version, which securely stores my returns in the cloud.

I've used it two years in a row now and, start to finish with somewhat complicated returns (we have a mix of W-2s and 1099s, typically, because my wife and I file jointly but combine freelance and full-time employment, along with some other wrinkles related to being the proud parents of three kids). Last year the whole process consumed about four hours. This year, it was barely two. 

The whole setup is masterfully plug-n-chug. The software guides your through personal info, income categories, and deductions, then checks everything and allows you to choose between e-filing and printing and mailing. Everybody loves the refund counter at the top of the page, which acts as a carrot, keeping you going as you work through the numbers.

Given how easy this all is — and that you have a few extra days this year — my usual recommendation that, if you don't have your act together yet, you should file for an extension (which allows you six months to file, but not to pay if you think you owe) doesn't seem as compelling. Just grab a couple of hours and power through it, using a convenient online service. The Washington Post provides a nice rundown of what's out there, both essentially for free from the feds, as well as some of the consumer options.

Of course, if you must file and extension, you're in good company. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney did just that, promising that he will file on an estimated $23 million in 2011 income sometime before the election in November.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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