Get those taxes done, stat!

Tax Day (April 18, *gulp!*) is just around the corner. If you've been avoiding that folder of receipts and forms and paperwork stashed in your desk, you are not alone. We've all been there at some point.

But the tax filing deadline is fast approaching, and time is of the essence. Here's how to get those taxes done quickly:

Get your documents together.

You'll need:

  • All your tax documents. This includes W-2 forms and receipts or statements for any items you plan to deduct.
  • Photo identification.
  • Social Security Cards for yourself and your dependents.
  • Checkbook for payment, if necessary, or direct deposit of your refund.
  • A copy of last year's return.

Now that you've got your documents together, it's decision time. You've got two basic options:

Prepare your returns yourself, using an online tool.

If you are considering filing yourself using an online tool, you probably want to know: how much time will it take you to prepare your return and how will it cost?

Let's start with the time you will invest in preparation. For very simple returns, it will take you perhaps an hour to gather and enter your information, and it may not cost you anything. If you itemize deductions, however, plan to spend 2 – 4 hours gathering and entering your information, and it may cost you between $75 - $100, depending on the software you use.

For help choosing a software tool that's right for you, check out this review.  Most tax preparation software is very simple to use.

…or, choose a tax preparer.

A quick Google search for "tax preparers near me" should help you get started tracking down a tax preparer. Don't be afraid to seek out one of the national franchise players like H&R Block, Liberty Tax, or Jackson-Hewitt.

When choosing a tax preparer, be sure to ask for their Preparer Tax Identification Number or verify online on the IRS website.

How tax preparers calculate their fees varies. Some charge a flat fee, some by the hour, some by data entry, with perhaps additional fees based on the complexity of the return. Fees should not, however, be based on the size of your return. That's a red flag that the tax preparer might push for riskier deductions.

If your taxes are uncomplicated and you don't itemize, expect to pay around $175. If you do itemize, tack on another $100 to that rate.

Be sure to ask what the fee includes. Do they charge extra for electronic filing? Do they charge extra if you need a copy of your tax return later in the year? Does the fee include a tax consultation or planning meeting where you can ask questions and received advice on how to minimize your taxes? Do they charge extra for audit protection?

Make a plan for next year.

Gut check time – did tax filing make you feel stressed this year? Did you have everything you needed? Do you have a nagging feeling you missed some deductions, or you are not making the most of tax planning?

Now is the time to plan. After the tax season ends, plan to do some research into adding some tax and financial advisers to your team, or make some time to talk to the tax and financial advisers to your team.