How to Mentally Prepare for Tax Season

How to Mentally Prepare for Tax Season

By Kelsey Willock


My room was a disaster. I tore every piece of clothing out of my drawers, threw them onto the ground and sat in a pile of pants and t-shirts crying. Alex (my roommate) had just gotten home and walked into my room terrified. 

“What happened? It’s a disaster in here. Is everything okay?”

“No. I cannot get out of this hole.” 

“What are you talking about?”

I proceeded to tell him everything. Since it was April 13th, all of my friends had been talking about finishing their taxes and what they were going to do with their refunds. Some had plans to go on trips, some were going to buy their first designer bags, and some were eager to inflate their savings accounts. I had been putting off TurboTax (as always) but the deadline was approaching, so I finally made time to get them done. I spent over an hour linking my accounts – at the time, I had 14 separate student loans, so linking everything took forever. While my frustration was growing and patience fading, I kept motivated by thinking, “the refund will make this all worth it.” 

When I reached the end, TurboTax had an estimated refund number on the top left and I was thrilled. I selected “Process my Refund” and an error appeared, “You do not qualify to write off your student loan interest.” I froze. Certainly I must have done something wrong. My whole refund was dependent on writing off my interest, and I didn’t qualify. I completely broke down which led to the laundry explosion in my bedroom. 

WTF Are You Talking About?

Doing your taxes is STRESSFUL. While many systems exist (like TurboTax) to make the process easier, they still take time and effort, and can be extremely taxing on your emotional state (pun intended). But with a little preparation, you can avoid a total meltdown. So keep reading to learn how to mentally prepare for tax season, beat the existential dread, AND keep your room clean.

WTF do Taxes and Laundry Have in Common?

  1. They Are Stressful – After I realized the damage I had done to my room, my anxiety skyrocketed. My clothes were everywhere and I knew the clean up was going to take at least a few hours. Taxes can cause similar stress. Money is the leading cause of anxiety and taxes are certainly a contributing factor. If you find yourself stressed by them, you are not alone. In a recent study, researchers found 74% of millennials were stressed about tax season. 
  2. They Can Pile Up – I am guilty of often letting my laundry pile up which as a result causes me (and Alex) additional stress and anxiety. The longer I avoid dealing with it, the longer I know it will take to fix the mess. Taxes can feel the same. The longer you wait, the more stress builds over time creating a vicious feedback cycle of stress and anxiety.
  3. They Really Don’t Take That Much Time – While I’ve been talking about the stress of clothing explosions, I might be over-exaggerating how long it actually takes to clean, just a bit. Even when I let off a bomb cyclone in my room, the mess itself only took about 20 minutes to clean (not hours). Filing your taxes can be similarly efficient and even gratifying when you can check it off your to-do list. The last time I filed taxes, it only took me about 1 hour (Thank GOD for my student loan consolidation). 

How to Mentally Prepare for Tax Season?

Taxes are STRESSFUL. Get through them efficiently requires getting  into the right mindset and mentally preparing, first. Here are some tips on how:

  1. Give Yourself Time – Whenever I am rushed, I get anxious and irritable. Ever find yourself late for an appointment and angry at every car in sight but when you aren’t late, you enjoy the cruise? Doing your taxes in a timely manner can have a similar psychological effect. I had started doing my taxes 2 days before they were due which put me in a stressed out state of mind even before I sat down to do them. Consider starting weeks before they are due rather than submitting last minute. Heck, put on a calendar placeholder for one hour right now to get started next week. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

  2. Get Comfortable – Find a relaxing space and get comfortable. I even try to light a candle and put on music before diving into taxes because I know how anxiety-inducing they can be for me. The reality is stress is natural and inevitable. Rather than try to tell yourself “taxes aren’t stressful,” set realistic expectations and counter stress intentionally with things that relax you (in my case, deep house music).

  3. Set Expectations – While I mentioned taxes CAN take less time than you think, the average person takes around 11-13 hours to finish their taxes according to the IRS. If you are self-employed or have multiple income streams, it might even take longer. By being reasonable with yourself, you confront your reality rather than try to escape it. I would love to escape my laundry, but shutting the door on it won’t make the clothes disappear and someday soon you realize, you’re out of underwear.

  4. Find a Support System – You don’t have to do your taxes on your own. You can find a digital or personal accountant to help you. Many use digital solutions like TurboTax or H&R Block which can cut your tax filing time down significantly. If your situation is more complicated, you could also hire an accountant. Making the decision between the two options typically depends on how complicated your situation is and how much you want to pay (accountants are 2-3x more expensive than digital solutions). Regardless of which option you choose, you are also 41 times less likely to make a mistake than if you file them manually yourself.

  5. Bonus – Set yourself up for success next year. Whether you need to be better at tracking your expenses, managing your anxiety, or both, take the time to appreciate the work you’re putting into your prep today and write yourself a note to reflect on all the things you did to get the job done. Next year, look back at your note and remember, you’ve tackled taxes before, you have everything you need to do it again.