Finish Your Taxes in an Hour or Less

All that early effort pays off when it’s time to file

Business owner in restaurant with laptop checking paperwork

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Completing your tax return might well be one of your most praiseworthy personal accomplishments of the year.

Including associated forms and schedules, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has estimated that taxpayers filing Form 1040 had an average burden of about 30 hours, taxpayers filing Form 1040A averaged about nine hours, and those filing 1040 EZ averaged about seven hours. After that, you’ll be ready to file that return with the IRS.

Get a Free Review

Maybe you think your completed return feels complete and is ready to file, but it never hurts to have a tax-savvy professional such as a certified public accountant (CPA) look it over before you send it off.

If you'd prefer free tax return preparation, you can visit one of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) offices if you meet at least one of the following qualifications: 

  • Your income is $57,000 or less as of the 2021 tax year.
  • English is your second language.
  • You’re 60 years of age or older.
  • You’re disabled.

The IRS provides a search tool online to help you find a VITA location near you, with a note that available services can vary at each site due to the availability of volunteers certified with the tax law expertise required for your return.

The IRS also offers Taxpayer Assistance Centers, which are intended to provide taxpayers with free personal tax help (and several other IRS services). They’ll be happy to review your return for you, but you must call ahead and make an appointment.

A state-by-state list of offices is available on the IRS website, along with contact information and each office’s status during the coronavirus pandemic.  

If you used tax return preparation software, you can probably feel pretty confident that your return was prepared correctly. These programs will have made all deduction and other decisions for you based on your answers to the software’s questions.

File Your Taxes

You’re not done quite yet when your return receives a stamp of approval from a knowledgeable reviewer or tax preparer. Now you have to figure out how you’re going to get your return to the IRS.  


E-filing is by far your simplest and most popular option. In fact, according to the IRS, as of October 2021, 151,681,000 out of 167,634,000 total returns received by the agency were filed electronically. The IRS obligingly provides a search tool for e-file providers in your area, and tax preparation software can take care of this detail for you if you use it.

Otherwise, if you mail a physical copy of your return, IRS staff will have to enter it into the agency’s computer system, which can take up to four weeks to process and six to eight weeks to issue refunds.

Getting refunds from paper filing might take some time. The IRS reported in June 2021 that it faced a backlog of over 35 million individual and business income tax returns that require manual processing.

Getting Your Refund

As for that refund you’re expecting, you can request direct deposit to your bank account listed on your tax return. Just enter your account number, the type of account, and your bank’s routing number on lines 35b, 35c, and 35d of your Form 1040 to avoid the painful process of waiting for a paper check to arrive in the mail.

The IRS says that a taxpayer can expect their refund within 21 days of the IRS acceptance of the return, although you may receive it sooner if you file early, or you may wait a bit longer if you file at the height of the tax season, which usually hits in March. 

The tax filing deadline for individual taxpayers in 2022 is April 18. However, the IRS has extended due dates for residents of Maine and Massachusetts. Individuals who live in these states have until April 19, 2022, to file their 2021 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR because April 15, 2022, is Emancipation Day and April 18, 2022, is Patriots’ Day.

Paying What You Owe

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the IRS provides a variety of ways to remit payment if taxpayers don’t want to send paper checks through snail mail.

You can pay via debit from your bank account on the Direct Pay website or use a payment processor if you want to pay with a credit card, for a small fee. The IRS has a webpage for this option, too. 

Next Steps and More Resources

If you’ve made it this far in The Balance’s New Year New Money program and followed every step in the series, you’ve set up a plan to reduce or eliminate credit card debt, you’ve begun a short-term savings plan and maybe a long-term one, you’ve created a budget and started following it, and you’ve gotten a head start on your taxes.

Take a deep breath. It’s been a busy month.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I get my taxes done faster?

E-filing and providing your direct deposit information using tax preparation software such as TurboTax or H&R Block is the quickest way to get your return processed and your refund sent out. The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.

How long does it take to manually process a tax return?

If you choose to mail a physical copy of your return instead of e-filing, IRS staff will have to enter it manually into its computer system. The agency can take up to four weeks to process your return and six to eight weeks to issue a refund.

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