Few people look forward to doing their taxes, and it’s easy to put off the tedious annual chore when the deadline is still months away. And this year you can even procrastinate a few days longer: Since April 15 falls on a Saturday this year and the District of Columbia celebrates Emancipation Day on Monday, April 17, tax day will be on Tuesday, April 18.
Even if you have extra time to file taxes this year, most experts say that shouldn’t affect your tax prep. Tax filing has already begun, and there are lots of benefits to filing your taxes as soon as possible. Here are seven big ones:
1. You’ll have time to track down missing documents.
One of the hardest parts about doing your taxes is organizing your paperwork and collecting all the documents necessary to claim deductions. Employers, banks and clients must send you W2s and 1099s by January 31 this year. “It’s always beneficial to start the process of gathering your data early, so you can identify which information is still missing and then you have time to reach out to the appropriate parties to track it down,” says Laurie Samay, a client and portfolio services manager with Palisades Hudson Group in Stamford, Connecticut.
2. You’ll get better professional help.
Hiring professional help is a good idea if you have complicated taxes or if you’re self-employed or had a significant life change such as getting married or having children. Look for someone who’s either a certified public accountant or an enrolled agent; both must take ongoing exams to prove their knowledge of the tax code.
However, experienced tax professionals only get busier as the tax deadline approaches, and some even stop taking new clients within a few weeks of tax day or require that laggards file for an extension. “Your preparer wants to make sure that they have time to get the return done right and for the taxpayers to review it,” says Annette Nellen, professor of accountancy and taxation at San Jose State University. “They don’t want to do everything at the last minute either.”
3. You’re less likely to make mistakes.
Whether you’re using a tax preparer or filing your taxes on your own, getting started early will give you plenty of time to double check all your entries for errors. Computer programs are great at catching math errors, but they won’t know if you’ve transposed digits on your Social Security number or incorrectly transferred numbers from your W-2. Starting the process early will give you time to print out your returns and double-check all your numbers for human error.
“Whether you’re filing your own returns or working with someone else, it’s a good practice to take your first best shot at it and then come back and look again a few days later,” says Troy Lewis, a CPA in Draper, Utah. “You’ll often find your own mistakes or think about deductions or other things that maybe you didn’t think about the first time. If you’re in a hurry, that step goes out the door.”
Related: 13 Last-Minute Tips to Lower Your Taxes
4. You’ll beat the ID thieves.
The IRS has put some new security measures in place this year, including requiring filers to enter their exact adjusted gross income amount from their 2015 taxes, which should make it harder for crooks. Still, filing your taxes early is the easiest way to thwart the identity thieves who make money stealing tax refunds this time of year.
In the classic tax-related ID theft, scammers use your personal information, including your Social Security number, to file a bogus claim for a tax refund, which they collect. “Once you’ve filed, you’ve locked your information into the IRS system, which is great,” says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. “That protects you, to a certain level, from ID theft.”
5. You’ll get your refund sooner.
If you’re like three-quarters of taxpayers, you can expect a refund after you file. The IRS expects to send out more than 153 million individual tax refunds, and the agency plans to send most checks within three weeks of receiving the return. That means that the sooner you get your return in, the sooner that money will be in your bank account. “If you’re owed a refund, there’s no reason to let the government hang onto that money,” says Alison Flores, a principal tax research analyst at the Tax Institute at H&R Block.
There’s one exception this year: If you’re claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional children tax credit, the IRS won’t send your refund until late February, thanks to a new law aimed at uncovering fraud.
If you find out that you unexpectedly owe money to the IRS, filing early will give you a few months to come up with a plan to get that cash. That’s because no matter when you file, your tax payment isn’t due until the tax deadline.
6. You can make the process less stressful.
Starting the process early means that you’ll be less stressed about the taxes while you’re doing them, and you’ll be able to check them off your to-do list earlier. “For many, there’s a mental fatigue and anxiety around knowing that you have to do your taxes,” Lewis says. “Getting them done sooner rather than later means you can have an enjoyable spring.”
7. You can make changes earlier for next year.
Filing your taxes is also a good opportunity to do some tax planning and put some changes in place that could benefit you in the year to come. If, for example, you received an extraordinarily large refund, it might make sense to select a lower withholding amount at work. Making such changes as early in the year as possible means you’ll have a longer period of time to reap the rewards.