Filing Your Own Taxes This Year? Don't Make This Mistake

Don't file while distracted.

Maurie Backman
Maurie Backman
Feb 28, 2019 at 7:16AM
Investment Planning

With tax season in full swing, now's the time when many folks will ideally stop procrastinating and start working on their returns so that they're done in time for the April 15 filing deadline. You have several options when it comes to filing your taxes. You can buy software and tackle your return yourself (or even file for free if you earned $66,000 or less last year), or you can hire a tax preparer to do the job for you.

The problem with the latter, of course, is that you'll generally spend more to hire a professional than to go the do-it-yourself route. And since filing taxes is hardly rocket science, there's no reason not to consider completing your return on your own -- especially if you're dealing with a fairly simple tax situation. But if you're going to handle that return solo, you must give it your complete attention -- something a large number of filers don't manage to do.

Person filling out tax form.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

A good 47% of tax filers say they file their returns while watching TV, according to data compiled by H&R Block. Meanwhile, 28% of filers say they work on their returns in conjunction with browsing social media sites. And 14% say they've prepared their taxes while under the influence of alcohol. Yikes.

If you file your taxes at a time when you're distracted, you'll risk making a major mistake that could hurt you in more ways than one. And that's why you'll need to carve out some taxes-only time if you're going to do them yourself.

The dangers of distracted tax prep

Filing your taxes while distracted could result in a scenario in which your return contains a major error, whether it's math related or something more basic, like selecting the wrong filing status. Either way, you stand to lose out if you make a mistake. For one thing, if the information you put on your return doesn't match certain information the IRS has on file, you could wind up getting audited or having your tax return rejected. Either scenario could significantly delay your refund, if you're due one, not to mention create additional work for you.

Another problem with filing taxes while distracted? Even if you don't make a mistake that the IRS flags, you could end up missing out on lucrative tax breaks that put more money in your pocket. For example, there are a number of valuable credits designed to lower your tax liability, but if you don't pay attention to what you might be eligible for, you risk losing out. Similarly, if you're not careful, you might miss out on deductions you're entitled to claim.

The solution? Give your taxes your full attention, and resist the urge to multitask. If you can't do that, you might consider paying a modest premium for a tax preparer to complete your return for you. If that professional identifies savings opportunities you wouldn't have found yourself, the savings could more than pay for the preparer's fee, and you'll get the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your return is less likely to contain a harmful error.