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Psychology behind tax procrastination

IRS 1040 form

DALLAS – April 10, 2019 – Why do some people file their taxes right away while others procrastinate until the April 15 posting deadline? Surprisingly, it’s often a lot more than a matter of dollars and cents.

“Psychology can play a larger role than economics in determining when a person files,” says Dr. H.M. “Monty” Evans, a psychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Research shows that most people file taxes based on how much cash they have on hand and if they expect a payment or a refund, Dr. Evans says.

“Those with higher incomes tend to file later, particularly if they anticipate large tax payments, while those who expect refunds file earlier, especially if they think they will be getting large refunds,” he says.

However, these trends are not always consistent. Other psychological issues that may cause even those who expect refunds to delay filing include:

  • Being upset because stocks have taken a dip and they don’t want to face facts
  • Not wanting to be realistic in regard to personal finances, which filing taxes forces them to do
  • Anger toward bureaucracy, resulting in delaying filing because they don’t want to “pay the government”
  • Not wanting to be reminded of distressing personal issues, such as a recent divorce

“Generally, it may be that psychology plays a larger role than economics in decisions of when to file,” Dr. Evans says.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,500 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 3 million outpatient visits a year.