Health Watch -- Tax Procrastination

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Did you file an extension on your income taxes? If so, it may not have been for economic reasons.

Some people file their income taxes as soon as they have all the necessary paperwork in place. Some barely get their taxes in the mail before midnight April 15. And some people don't even make that deadline, instead filing for an extension so they can put off the ugly task even longer. Psychiatrists at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say there are both economic and psychological reasons for this kind of procrastination.

One economic reason for procrastinating on taxes is the expectation that you'll have to pay extra taxes. People with higher incomes who may have to pay extra are more likely to file later. People who expect a refund are more likely to file quickly.

But Dr. Steven Krebaum, a UT Southwestern psychiatrist, says that psychological reasons can affect these trends. Even people who expect refunds may have filed late if there are other factors at work.

People may delay filing because they don't want to deal with financial realities, something that preparing taxes forces us to do. People may not want to acknowledge a big stock loss, or they don't want to face the reality of their financial situation.

People who are angry with the government may also delay filing. These people don't want to pay the government, so they try to avoid it until the last second. A painful personal situation may be another reason for procrastination. Doing taxes might remind someone of a difficult divorce, for example.

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April 2004

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