Adulting for Autistics: Filing Your Taxes

Today’s Adulting For Autistics topic is one of the most overwhelming and scary parts of adult life: filing your taxes!

Taxes are overwhelming and confusing for pretty much everyone, NT or otherwise.  Many people pay lots of money to have someone else handle their taxes, which is totally a viable option.  But you don’t have to be overwhelmed by tax season.  Here are my best strategies for filing your taxes as an autistic or executive function-challenged adult.

Start Early!

This year (2021), the IRS won’t accept any tax returns until sometime in February because there are still a lot of possible changes on account of Covid-19 relief and whatnot.

Still, in any year, your taxes are something you should start thinking about in January – NOT April.  The earlier you start, the less stressed you’ll be and the sooner you’ll get any refund you are due.

Make Sure You Have All Your Paperwork

So, even though you can’t file yet this year, start gathering all your paperwork.  For most people who are employed, you’ll get a W2 from your employer.  If you’re a freelancer or work as a contractor, you’ll get a 1099 from each client.  However, there are about a hundred different kinds of 1099s for just about every kind of income that isn’t wages.  You’ll receive a 1099 for any disability payments, SSI, interest on bank accounts or investments, jury duty, gambling winnings, etc.

If you received an inheritance, you’ll get a form for that as well, usually from the executor of the estate.

The IRS no longer requires you to provide proof of health insurance, but you’ll probably get a form about that, too.  Just keep it on hand.

You’re going to receive all these from early January until maybe the end of February.  Employers, banks, etc. are supposed to mail those out by January 31, but some get them out earlier than others.  So grab a folder and tuck each form in there until you have everything you need to get started on your tax return.

Do It Yourself or Pay Someone Else

Yes, You Can Do It Yourself

When I say “do your taxes yourself”, I mean doing them without paying someone else.  There are free tax prep services that are trustworthy, like TurboTax.  H&R Block also has a free option, but only for very simple tax returns (just one W2, no 1099s except maybe interest payments, that sort of thing).

These services let you do everything online.  First, you plug in some information from your tax forms.  Then they ask you a lot of questions about your life situation and your income and use that to determine your tax bracket, your credits and refunds, and your final refund or tax bill.  This is awesome and easy and usually takes less than an hour!  And did I mention these are free?

And you don’t pay for these services until you file them.  So if you plug in all your information and find that the price has gone up or you’d rather go elsewhere, that’s not a problem.

Paid Tax Prep Services

Sometimes you want more expertise.  For example, I have self-employment income every year, which adds layers of complexity to my taxes.  Investment income is another complication that can benefit from a paid tax prep service, along with income from a trust or other such things.

Even if you choose to pay for tax preparation, you don’t necessarily have to pay hundreds of dollars!  I did my taxes with H&R Block in person once and it cost me over $200 (and that was before my taxes got complicated).  But their online service is a flat rate for a package that includes self-employment income, usually between $60-100, depending on the coupon code I get that year.  I can do my taxes on my schedule (I usually end up doing them late at night for some reason), without an appointment, and I still get the audit protection that comes with using that company.

If you have any kind of really complicated income – trust income, large dividends, or any income situation that requires quarterly tax payments – a CPA may be the best choice.  Although most people don’t need that kind of personal service, when your finances are very complex, it’s worth it!

Hybrid Model

I never file my state taxes through a paid service.  For one thing, it always seems to cost more than it ought to and I can file for free on my state tax website.  And for another, my state tax return is ridiculously simple.  I live in Louisiana, where there are a million possible credits and refunds, and I don’t qualify for a single one!  It takes me about five minutes to plug in my numbers and total it up.  If your state taxes are simple to work out and the filing site is easy to navigate, I highly recommend that as a free option.

Most online tax prep services include access to tax professionals for specific questions, but no matter how you choose to prepare and file your taxes, you can call a tax prep office and ask them your questions for free.  This is especially useful if you have a one-time event in your finances, like receiving an inheritance.

Change Your Deadline

Remember how I said you should start thinking about your taxes in January, not April?  Along with that, tell yourself that your taxes are due March 15, not April 15.  Change that deadline in your mind and even if you don’t make it, you’ll still have a month to get it done.

Bonus Round – Check Your Withholding

This is a final step of doing your income tax.  Nobody wants to owe money on their taxes.  If you did, you need to look at how much is being withheld from your income and increase that amount to cover your tax to avoid having to pay up again next year.  If you got a refund this year, awesome!  But do you realize that you gave the government an interest-free loan for the year?  If you’d rather get that money in your paychecks throughout the year, you should cut down your withholding.  However, if you like getting a refund at tax time every year, that’s ok, too. 

Doing your taxes is a daunting prospect for just about everyone.  It’s time-consuming, it involves money which makes a lot of people squeamish, it’s confusing and can be overwhelming.  If it breaks your brain, that’s ok.  If you can handle most of it yourself, that’s great.  There are lots of options to help you get through this ordeal that is a huge part of adult life.

A book labeled "Income tax" on top of two folders full of paperwork, all on top of more paperwork with a calculator and open pen. Blue and white text on a purple background reads "Adulting for Autistics Filing Your Taxes"

Do you pay to have your taxes done so you don’t have to think about it?  Do you do your taxes yourself?  What’s your least favorite part of doing your taxes (other than paying them)?  Got any more tips or hacks for a successful ND tax season?

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