How Much Time Do You Spend Preparing Your Tax Return?

It varies but here's a look at average time spent on IRS tax returns.

How long should it take you to prepare your tax return? Like with most things tax, it depends. The IRS says that the average taxpayer spends 13 hours preparing their tax return. But it can take far longer for taxpayers with more complex returns. The following chart prepared by the IRS shows how long it takes taxpayers to prepare various types of tax returns.

Primary form filed or type of taxpayer

Return %

Total time

Recordkeeping

Tax planning

Form completion and submission

Other

Average Cost

All taxpayers

100%

13 hours

6 hours

2 hours

4 hours

1 hour

$200

Form 1040

69%

16 hours

8 hours

2 hours

5 hours

1 hours

$260

1040A

19%

8 hours

2 hours

1 hours

3 hours

1 hour

$80

1040EZ

12%

5 hours

1 hour

0

2 Hours

1 hour

$40

Nonbusiness Taxpayers

68%

8 hours

3 hours

1 hours

3 hours

1 hour

$110

Business Taxpayers

32%

24 hours

13 hours

3 hours

6 hours

2 hours

$410

(Source: IRS, 2014 Form1040 Instructions, “Estimates of Taxpayer Burden.”)

As you’d expect, taxpayers who don’t file any business returns spend the least time on their taxes. Those that file the 1040 short forms—Form 1040A or 1040-EZ—spend the least time. Indeed, Form 1040-EZ filers spend a mere five hours preparing their returns, with three hours of the total used for recordkeeping. Unfortunately, only 12% of taxpayers file the one-page Form 1040-EZ, which is a mere 14 lines long. You can file this form only if you are under age 65, earn less than $100,000, do not claim any adjustments to your income, and claim no tax credits (other than the earned income credit).

The IRS says that taxpayers who file the long-form 1040, which has 79 lines, spend a total of 16 hours in tax preparation. Half of this is for recordkeeping. Long-form filers also spend much more for tax preparation—an average of $260, compared with just $40 for Form 1040-EZ filers.

Taxpayers with their own businesses spend far more time on tax preparation than nonbusiness taxpayers. The IRS says the average total time they spend on their taxes is 24 hours, with 13 hours devoted to recordkeeping. They also spend the most on tax preparation—an average of $410.

If you think tax returns have gotten more complex and harder to prepare over the last few years, you’re right. Back in 2004, for example, the IRS said that it took only 13.5 hours for Form 1040 filers to prepare their returns. That’s 2.5 hours less than today.

Of course, these are just averages. Some people spend much more time on tax preparation, others less. Since recordkeeping is the most time consuming part of tax preparation, the best way you can reduce the time you spend on your taxes is to complete accurate and complete tax records throughout the year. This is true whether you prepare your return yourself, or hire a tax professional. Accurate records are also your best defense against an IRS audit.

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