How Long Does It Take to Do Taxes?

How long it takes to file taxes varies. Here's a look at the average amount of time spent on IRS tax returns.

By , J.D. · USC Gould School of Law
Updated by Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

How long should it take you to prepare your tax return? Like with most things tax, it depends.

According to the IRS, the average taxpayer spends 13 hours preparing their return. More specifically, the IRS says that the average nonbusiness taxpayer spends 9 hours preparing a tax return. But it takes far longer for taxpayers who file business returns, around 24 hours. Record keeping, tax planning, form submissions, and other related activities are included in these figures.

Of course, these are just averages. Some people spend much more time on filing their tax returns; others spend less.

How Long Does It Take to File Your Taxes?

The following chart that the IRS prepared shows how long it takes taxpayers to prepare tax returns.

Primary form filed or type of taxpayer

Return %

Total time


Tax planning

Form completion and submission


Average Cost

All taxpayers


13 hours

6 hours

2 hours

4 hours

1 hour


Nonbusiness Taxpayers


9 hours

3 hours

1 hour

3 hours

1 hour


Business Taxpayers


24 hours

12 hours

5 hours

6 hours

2 hours


(Source: IRS, 2023 Form 1040 Instructions, "Estimates of Taxpayer Burden.")

How Long Does It Take to Prepare a Simple Tax Return?

The average time people spend on filing their taxes varies considerably depending on which tax forms they use and whether they have any business income. As you'd expect, taxpayers who don't file any business returns spend the least time on their taxes.

The IRS says taxpayers without business returns spend 9 hours preparing their returns, with 3 hours of the total used for recordkeeping, 1 hour for tax planning, 3 hours for form completion and submission, and 1 additional hour.

How Long Does It Take to Prepare a Business Tax Return?

Taxpayers with their own businesses spend far more time on tax preparation than nonbusiness taxpayers. This category includes tax returns by corporations and tax returns that anyone with any type of business income, such as income from rental property or gig work, filed.

The IRS says the average total time taxpayers with their own businesses spend on their taxes is 24 hours, with 12 hours devoted to recordkeeping, 5 hours to tax planning, 6 hours for form completion and submission, and 2 additional hours. They also spend the most on tax preparation, an average of $560.

Is Preparing Tax Returns Hard?

Depending on the complexity of your situation, preparing a tax return can be complex and challenging, especially when you take into account constantly changing tax laws and regulations. The tax code can be overwhelming, and figuring out which forms to use and whether you can take deductions or claim tax credits requires expertise many people just don't have.

So, yes, preparing tax returns can be hard, depending on the circumstances. Getting help from a tax professional or using tax preparation software can make the process easier.

But, if your circumstances aren't that complicated, you might find it easy to prepare your own tax return.

How Can I Reduce the Time It Takes to File Taxes?

The majority of the time spent preparing taxes is on recordkeeping. Because recordkeeping is the most time-consuming part of tax preparation, the best way to reduce the time you spend on your taxes is to maintain accurate and thorough tax records throughout the year. This approach will be useful whether you prepare your tax return yourself or hire a tax professional. Accurate records are also important should the IRS decide to audit you.

Using tax preparation software (rather than preparing your taxes by hand) or hiring a tax professional to do your taxes will also save you a lot of time. Whether you should hire a tax pro depends on how complicated your taxes are, your skills in handling tax matters, and how much you value your time.

Why You Shouldn't Wait Until the Last Minute to File Your Taxes

Waiting until the last minute to file your taxes can lead to complications and unnecessary stress. For one thing, if you rush to get your tax return filed, you're more likely to make errors.

Also, if you prepare your taxes at the last minute, you might not have enough time to discover and deal with unexpected issues. For example, you might need to locate missing documentation or resolve other problems. As this article discusses, preparing and filing taxes isn't a fast process. You'll need sufficient time to organize your tax documents and information.

And if you miss the deadline and file your return late, you'll face late filing penalties and interest charges. The "Failure to File" penalty applies if you don't file your tax return by the due date. If your seriously late tax return shows taxes due, you'll probably be fined 5% per late month, up to a maximum of 25% for five months past April 15. After five months, penalties and interest keep running but at a lower monthly rate.

What If I Fail to File a Tax Return?

It's a crime not to file a tax return if you owe taxes. A willful failure to file a tax return is a misdemeanor if you owe the IRS money. So, if you fail to file, you can be fined up to $25,000 per year and sentenced to one year in prison for each unfiled year. (I.R.C. § 7203).

On the other hand, you won't face a criminal penalty if you file but can't pay your taxes. You'll owe interest and penalties but won't be charged criminally. So, even if you don't have any money and owe a lot in taxes, file your return. You have options for dealing with a back tax debt owed to the IRS.

Will I Go to Jail for Not Filing Taxes?

The U.S. justice system doesn't have enough jails to put away even 1% of nonfilers, so going to jail is highly unlikely—even if you owe a lot in taxes. Still, while very few people go to jail for not filing a tax return, it can happen. If your failure to file is deemed to be part of a scheme to evade taxes you can be charged with a felony, a very serious tax crime, which has a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a penalty of $100,000. (I.R.C. § 7201).

But people usually aren't criminally prosecuted for this felony. The felony crime requires a deceitful act beyond nonfiling, such as intentionally using a bogus Social Security number, while the misdemeanor doesn't require any additional deceitful act.

Read More Articles

Find out about IRS audit rates and the odds of you being audited in What Are the Triggers of IRS Tax Audits?

Read about the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable tax credit, which means you might be able to get free money from the federal government.

Get information about common tax deductions for individuals.

Getting Help

To learn more about filing taxes and how the IRS works, get Nolo's Stand Up to the IRS, by Frederick W. Daily and Stephen Fishman.

If you need more help, talk to a tax professional, such as a certified public accountant or a tax attorney. A tax professional can prepare tax returns or provide tax information, guidance, or representation before the IRS.

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