Take Charge of Your Taxes Early and Relax


Fixate too long on your taxes and you will probably experience some physical and psychological symptoms. Just the thought of that looming 1040 form and most people's palms start feeling sweaty, their shoulders get a bit more tense. Talk about taxing! But what if you could trade in that April 15 anxiety for a dose of higher self-esteem?

Psychologists say that paying your taxes early can do just that. “Facing the reality and not postponing the inevitable is a benefit in itself,” says April Lane Benson PhD., a psychologist specializing in working with compulsive consumers. If you are getting money back from the government, early filing gets your refund processed faster. “But if you have to pay [the government] money and you’re doing it early, it can be a way you can exercise control,” says Benson. Paying Uncle Sam in advance means you successfully met a deadline-based challenge, which certainly can increase your self-esteem and confidence “If you’re someone who has a tendency to overspend and are able to face the fact you owe this money and honor your commitment to paying your taxes, it can be a step in the right direction,” says Benson.

In addition to peace of mind, crossing taxes off your to-do list also frees you up to concentrate on other endeavors. It might seem obvious, but as people are confronted with more demands, it becomes difficult to pay attention to the most important task at hand. “It’s like battlefield triage,” says Daniel Kegan, PhD., an organizational psychologist. “All things want attention, and we have to sort out what to attend to. If you haven’t done something you need to do, it’s diverting your concentration elsewhere.”

If you’re someone who puts off those government filings, don’t be afraid to make it easier on yourself by asking for help. “See if your partner is better at those things and maybe let them do it,” says Kegan. “Then give them a treat for it, like take them away for a weekend.” Benson says breaking down your task into several manageable steps should make paying taxes easier. “You can absolutely make it more manageable,” she says. Use resources like Tax Web or IRS counselors for help with the gritty details.

And the psychological relief does not have to be your only bonus for staying on top of your taxes. Those sore shoulders need some attention, too. “It’s a great idea to reward yourself when done,” says Benson. “Not only with positive statements about yourself, but with an activity reward that will really make your heart sing.” If you charged your taxes on a credit card with incentives, like the American Express (AXP) points program, use the bonus points from your taxes to indulge in one of their many membership rewards catalogue items, like a half day at a spa or a private two-hour golf lesson.

“Taking the time to notice the joy you got from actually accomplishing this, even if it was a horrible process, is a great feeling,” says Benson. “Too often we just rush through and don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve for facing these kinds of challenges. But it will make facing this hard task easier in the future.”

Finishing your taxes can also be a time to appreciate their greater significance, too. “People like to have meaning in their life, and it’s a good time to reflect for a moment in a patriotic way on the benefits that are paid for with your taxes,” says Kegan. “I almost think 'Tax Day' should be turned into 'Thank You Government Day.' You spend 360 some-odd days complaining about it going to the wrong places, but think of the fire department that put out a fire next door or the teachers who work under difficult conditions. It gets positive chemicals running around our bodies.”

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