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12:00 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Tax-Time Procrastination, An American Tradition

The April deadline comes around at about the same time every year. Still, with just a few days left before taxes are due, many people continue to put off filing.

The boxes of receipts, stacks of W-2s and 1099s are daunting enough. Add in row after row of fill-in boxes on the 1040, and it's no wonder so many people procrastinate.

NPR's Neal Conan talks with Joe Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, and Liz Weston, a columnist at MSN Money, about why so many people wait until the last minute to do their taxes, and the lessons they've learned over years of filing.

First, Ferrari puts procrastination in context. "What we have shown in the research here at DePaul University," he says, "is that 20 percent of adult men and women — there's no significant sex difference — are chronic procrastinators." That group procrastinates on everything, from responding to invitations to filling the gas tank, and, almost certainly, filing taxes.

But what about people who don't procrastinate that much but still put off filing? "I think part of the problem is there's no incentive to file early," says Ferrari, especially if you owe money. The solution, he suggests, is not to penalize late filers, but reward those who get theirs turned in early.

Weston says the biggest worry for taxpayers is that ignorance can lead to missed deductions. "You could be making mistakes and not knowing it because there was some obscure court decision that came down that changes everything," she says. "That's why a lot of us turn to professionals."

Even tax pros need some time to get it right. "f you give it to your tax pro at the last minute," Weston warns, "that increases the chances that he or she will make a mistake. So, you know, a little bit of lead time is a really good thing."

Tell us: What do you dread most, and what you have you learned about doing your taxes?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. We know we should do them earlier. It's not like the annual, mid-April deadline comes as a surprise. Still, with six days left before taxes are due, many people have yet to file. The boxes of receipt, stacks of W-2s and 1099s are daunting enough. Add in row after row of fill-in boxes on the 1040 form, and it's easy to see why so many wait till the minute or make the bold decision to postpone the procrastination and file for a six-month extension.

So what do you dread most, and what you have you learned about doing taxes? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, after the debate over pink slime, what's really in our food? But first, tax dread. Joe Ferrari joins us from his office in Chicago, where he's a professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book "Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done." And it's nice to have you with us today.

JOE FERRARI: Hi. Good afternoon. Nice to hear from you today. And thank you for not delaying.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Thank you. So, most of us have our taxes withheld. Even those who don't know they have to pay their taxes on the deadline, even if they wait six months to file. This is not about money, is it?

FERRARI: No, it's not, and I'm glad you asked. Now let's - if I may have a moment, let me try to educate your listeners and give them a context. Look, everybody procrastinates, but not everybody's a procrastinator. What we have shown in the research here at DePaul University in Chicago is that 20 percent of adult men and women - there's no significant sex difference - are chronic procrastinators.

So they'll delay doing their taxes, but they'll also delay Christmas shopping, holiday shopping. They'll not RSVP on time. They'll wait till the gauge goes on empty before they'll buy more gas. They get the third bill before they pay it. The refrigerator goes empty before they restock it. They'll miss concerts and sporting events because they never bought the ticket.

So that's 20 percent. Now, you might say: That's all? Well, that's higher than depression, than substance abuse, than alcoholism, than phobias, than most disorders - 20 percent. And it's not just a U.S. thing. It's Canadian. We find it in Australia. We find it in Spain, Peru, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, in Israel, recently in Italy, a study that was done.

So the person who is filing their taxes the last minute may very well - at least 20 percent of them - be procrastinating in other areas.

CONAN: But there is an added attraction, or dis-attraction in this case. This is a very unpleasant task for most people.

FERRARI: Yes. So for most people who do it, who are perhaps the other 80 percent, who this is the only thing they really delay, I think part of the problem is there's no incentive to file early. Now, look. If you're getting a refund and you don't file, well, then, you're just giving the government your money longer. But if you owe money, there's absolutely no reason to file earlier. Why would you want to send the money earlier?

So what I have said, and as I say in the book and elsewhere, is that we need to go back to the old proverb: The early bird gets the worm. Now, you remember that expression. It means we reward people for doing things early. We don't do that anymore. In this age of political correctness, we slice that worm up, and we cut it up so that everybody gets a piece, and everyone gets the same size.

Well, wait a second. We need to go back and reward for doing things early, not punish for being late, not give people a fine for filing after April 17th this year, but reward for doing it earlier.

So here's what I propose, if I may, and I have said this often, is that perhaps the government can look into this kind of an angle: You can't really file in January, because you're getting all your tax information together. But if you file by, let's say, February 15th, the government can maybe give you back a 5 percent rebate or a 5 percent reduction. Well, you save some money, the government gets it two months earlier, and everybody wins.

You want to do it on March 15th? Great. Three percent off. Well, again, you save a little bit. You want to file on April 15th, absolutely. You have to pay it all. See, so we need to think of creative ways in this difficult economic time to reward the early bird, not punish for being late. You can keep your sanctions for being late, but I say let's have incentives for doing things early.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners into the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Our guest is Joe Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. And we'll start with Donna, Donna with us from Pauline in South Carolina.

DONNA: Hi. How are you?

FERRARI: Good, Donna. How are you today?

DONNA: I'm good. We just sent our taxes to the accountant, just probably Monday, is when we did. We have a small business, and just huge amounts of paper and sorting and downloading, separating personal from business and so forth to get all that information together, and we get money back every year. But yeah, we almost run into the deadline every year.

CONAN: Almost, because - by sending it Monday, it's going to be - you'll get it in time, but it's a close-run thing.

FERRARI: Well, I think if she sends it in Monday - Monday...

DONNA: I sent it to my accountant Monday. He's got to go through it and send it in.

CONAN: Yeah.

FERRARI: I'm sorry, say it again. What?

CONAN: She sent it to her accountant on Monday.

FERRARI: Oh, she gave it to her accountant. OK. You know, there's been a recent study, Donna, and others have found, is that the lady who - people who file around this time pay almost double the cost to have it done than those who did it back in January or February. And the studies have also shown that only about 60 percent of people are confident about their taxes now, compared to over 80 percent who did it earlier.

So you're losing money by waiting. It's going to cost you more, and there's a greater probability of an error. I don't know if people always are aware of those kinds of things.

CONAN: Well, would you use an accountant anyway, Donna?

DONNA: Yeah, we would have used an accountant, anyway. So that'll be a question I'll have to ask him, whether, you know, there's a cost savings there. But I think your speaker is correct about, yeah, you're kind of rushed doing it now. So maybe, you know, I didn't get all of my paperwork, and I might not have filed all my medical expenses. I don't know. Maybe I should get more back. So, you know, maybe I'm cheating myself.

FERRARI: Sure. I don't own a personal business like this, but do you - but I do this personally. Do you, every few months, sit down and update tax records, just so that you're not overloaded at the end?

DONNA: Absolutely, I do not. I wish I did. I say that every year, I'm going to do this every three months, quarterly, I'm going to sit down and organize it all so it's not too huge at the end of the year. However, you know, you just get busy working during the year, and you're just busy.

FERRARI: Yeah, I agree, and I hate it, too. I have a little shelf at home that I keep it in. I just throw all the receipts there together. But then every three months, or sometimes every four months, at least several times, I will take a Saturday or a day when I know that I didn't have too much work coming up, and take two or three hours just to update all my records so that, again, I don't have to worry about it at the end like that.

CONAN: It sounds like you're a little more organized than most of us. Donna, thanks very much for the call, and congratulations on getting it in to your accountant.

FERRARI: Thank you for calling.

DONNA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Joe, and Joe's on the line with us from Denver.

JOE: Hey, how's it going?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

FERRARI: Hi, Joe.

JOE: So I wanted to bring up a point that maybe taxes were an exception when it came to procrastination, because it can be perceived as such a daunting task. And I used to really procrastinate. I even didn't do taxes for maybe about two years. And I went back and did the amendments and ended up getting the money back.

And the reason I did that was because I'm in the military, and they put me on this special assignment where we do taxes for soldiers, and they put us through a little three-week course, teach us how to do 1040s and 1040-EZs.

FERRARI: Great.

JOE: And I learned a lot. I did about 200 returns during that period of time. And, you know, ever since then, I realized how easy it is, especially, you know, for me at the time. I was single. You know, now I'd be married filing jointly, and it's - it's really not that difficult. And I think a big problem with a lot of people is that they just don't - they don't understand it. They don't know how simple the process can actually be for them.

FERRARI: First, Joe, thank you for your service, and thank you for your service to helping other servicemen do their taxes.

JOE: Thank you for the support. I really appreciate that.

FERRARI: Appreciate that. But, you know, you hit it right on the head, here. Procrastinators seem to forget that - there's an expression: Don't miss the forest for the trees, which means don't miss the little points in life, because you - don't miss the big picture because you're focusing on the little picture. Don't miss the forest because you're focusing on the trees.

Procrastinators, it's the other way around. They see the big picture. They see, as you said, Joe, it's a daunting task. Oh, my God. This is huge. Like Donna, I've got all these receipts. It's just building up. And it just becomes too big. I tell people you've got to cut down one tree at a time. If you can't cut a tree, give me three branches. You can't do three branches, I'll take a handful of leaves, because a body in motion, like the commercial says, stays in motion.

We need to stay - get active. Just do it. You know, as Nike's saying, mine is just do it now. You need to start the activity. So you're absolutely right. People see the big picture and say, oh, my God. This is too much. Let me go chill and go do something else. And that's not the solution, because the problem is still there.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much, and good luck.

JOE: Awesome. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Email from Loreen(ph) in California, who notes that those of us who use the K form cannot file early. Companies have until March 15th to get the papers to us. So an exception would have to be made under your formula, Joe Ferrari, for that. But isn't some of this math terror, as well? We're so afraid of making a mistake, and so few of us are confident of even arithmetic.

FERRARI: Right, and as I said earlier, and the people who seem to wait later are even less confident about what they've done. Well, that's why we have - well, we have certain companies, and they have electronic versions of those companies to help us not make errors anymore with a - such a wired society.

Look, procrastinators are great excuse-makers. Neal, there's always a reason for the procrastinator. And you listen to them, and it sounds logical and believable. These are not stupid people. These are very smart people, because they - you have to be creative to keep coming up with excuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FERRARI: The problem is, it's always an excuse. It's never their fault. It's never taking responsibility. We've got to go back and teach people responsibility. It's not about me. It's about we. If I don't do the task, something else doesn't get done for somebody else, and it snowballs. And people need to begin to go back and think about that: It's not all about me.

I have to understand that there's other people's lives that are important that have to get things done. So, as far as the K form, isn't that interesting? We have a company that actually - or a system that prevents us from filing earlier, even if we want to.

CONAN: Well, Joe Ferrari, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it, and of course you were right here on time. Thanks very much for that, too.

FERRARI: OK, thank you very much.

CONAN: Joe Ferrari, a distinguished professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. He's the author of "Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done." He joined us from his office there in Chicago. We're talking about taxes, why we put off doing them until the last minute. What do you dread most? What have you learned in the process of doing your taxes? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. The email address: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. April 15 falls on a Sunday this year. Monday is a holiday here in Washington, D.C., Emancipation Day. So you get an extra two days to file those 2011 taxes. Many of us will still wait until the last minute to get it done. We're talking about why.

What do you dread most? What have you learned about doing taxes? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Liz Weston joins us now from her office in Los Angeles. She's a columnist for MSN Money and author of "Your Credit Score and the Ten Commandments of Money." Nice to have you back with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

LIZ WESTON: It's my pleasure, Neal, thanks.

CONAN: And there are - it should be noted there can be penalties for filing your taxes late.

WESTON: Well, that's a problem that's really looming there, that if you fail to file, the penalties are a lot bigger than if you file and fail to pay. So if it comes between one or the other, file something, even if it's an extension. Pay what you can, but don't just ignore this deadline. And I hear from people who do, and I'm just amazed they won't file their taxes for three years or five years or 10 years, and they finally decide, you know, hey, it's time to catch up.

And by then, they've probably lost out on some refunds they could've gotten. They might face penalties they wouldn't have had otherwise. So it's really not a deadline you want to miss.

CONAN: And Liz - we're talking to her over her iPhone, and it's not working, it does often, and it's wonderful when it does, but can you go back to the regular phone for us, Liz?

WESTON: Is this better?

CONAN: That's better, thank you. At least it's not buzzing and honking quite so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: Oh, dear.

CONAN: One reason people give for delaying is there are all the changes. There haven't been very many changes of late.

WESTON: Well, you know, not dramatic changes, but the tax code is so much more complicated, and it gets more complicated every year, and I think that's part of the reason that we are more and more reluctant to do it ourselves. I think the majority of people now use some kind of either tax preparation software or some kind of a tax pro.

And the biggest worry is that you don't know what you don't know, and you could be missing out on some great deductions. You could be making mistakes and not knowing it because there was some obscure court decision that came down that changes everything. You know, we don't do this 24/7. That's why a lot of us turn to professionals, whose job it is to get this right.

CONAN: This email from Kristen, Kirsten, excuse me: As I listen to your program today, I'm up to my elbows in receipts, files, bank statements, et cetera I am filing tax returns for two small businesses, mine and my husband's, as well as our personal taxes.

We will definitely be getting money back. So why do I procrastinate? Our income from last year was so depressing. Here's to a more profitable 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: Well, I hope that's true, but I would really encourage her to get some help. I mean, this is something that small business owners do a lot. They don't delegate. And, you know, you can't be expected to run small businesses and stay up on tax law, and you really do have to get in the habit of delegation.

And I - you know, if I - as soon as I had a side business, I got an enrolled agent to help me out. I think anybody who has a business, even if it's a freelancing sideline, should be talking to a tax pro, and the same thing holds if you have a lot of investments outside your retirement funds, and you're buying and selling and doing all that. You really can benefit from having some professional advice.

CONAN: But again, most of us have taxes withheld. We may be getting a little back or maybe even more than a little, but the fact is our taxes are real easy.

WESTON: Well, some people's are. Some people's are incredibly easy if they just have, like W-2 income and, you know, take the standard deduction. Then they probably don't need help. But, you know, if you do have a more complicated situation. Or if you're getting thousands and thousands of dollars back, you know, there's something wrong with your withholding, you need to get that straightened out.

Maybe you can do it yourself. Maybe you can go through the IRS and get that worked out. But again, I think that anybody that's got any kind of a complicated situation needs to talk to a pro.

CONAN: Let's go to Noah, Noah's on the line with us from San Francisco.

NOAH: Yes, so I actually have time to talk to you right now because I have, for the first time in my life, already done my taxes before tax day.

CONAN: Congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOAH: Thank you. But I was recently audited, and I have to say that the one thing that I really learned was that I was classifying all of my receipts and everything totally wrong, which I learned when I went through everything for the audit. And I totally agree with your guest that fear of the unknown is the major motivation behind procrastination.

And I do have one quick question: In the at least 12 years of mandatory schooling that most of us go through, can we shed some light on why they don't teach us anything about how to do our taxes, which is something that everyone has to do?

CONAN: That's a good question, Liz Weston. Why don't we have a citizenship course that includes lessons on how to do your taxes?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: Probably because it's too big a topic to try to tackle in high school. It's hard to get high-schoolers to even pay attention to, you know, how to deal with a checking account and how to buy your first car. But I agree, we should be a little bit more cognizant of how taxes work and how to do them.

Bringing up the issue of an audit is great because what you'll learn from personal finance experts and tax pros is that as a taxpayer, you shouldn't even show for those things. You should send a pro because you are likely to say something stupid and get yourself into more trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: So that's another reason to have a tax pro, somebody that's qualified to represent you before the IRS so you don't go there and make things worse.

CONAN: Noah, was it - opening the envelope one of the worst experiences of your life, though?

NOAH: It really was, but luckily through my tax preparation software, I got the audit protection, which I - at the time, I thought, well, if I ever get audited, this is probably not going to be worth the paper it's on, but I never had to talk to anyone, and I had a representative totally handle it, which was nice. But I still have to spend hours and hours preparing it. So it was still very unpleasant.

CONAN: And did you have to send a big check?

NOAH: I did not, luckily. Everything checked out, and I didn't owe any money. And I feel very lucky about that, having not taken a course in high school on how to prepare taxes.

CONAN: Well, Noah, congratulations again. Thanks very much for the phone call.

NOAH: All right, thank you.

CONAN: And behind that dread, I guess, Liz Weston, part of it is the fear of the audit.

WESTON: Well, absolutely. I mean, who would want to stare down an IRS auditor, especially if you've done things where you're a little bit afraid...

CONAN: These are the guys who got Capone.

WESTON: I'm sorry?

CONAN: These are the guys who got Capone.

WESTON: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: The Feds couldn't get him, but the IRS could. So this is not something you want to deal with. This is not something you want to face. And I think that really scares some people. And also, you know, tax law is not black and white. There are a lot of gray areas. And you can take a deduction and feel reasonably confident that you're on the right side, but there's still that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind: Well, maybe I messed this up.

So I think we have a very well-founded fear of the IRS, not that many of us are going to get audited in our lifetimes, but you only have to hear one or two stories to not want that to happen ever to you.

CONAN: Let's get Bridget(ph) on the line, Bridget with us from Salt Lake City.

BRIDGET: Sir, hello.

CONAN: Hi.

BRIDGET: I had my own business for eight years. When I married my husband, I was so relieved because he's highly organized, especially with our finances. So I wondered why he would wait until April to turn our receipts, everything in to the accountant. And this year, I found out.

He had spoken with my sister-in-law, and he came back to me with real concern because she had already received her tax return, and this was February. And he said - I said: What is it? He said: Do you know what that means? When people turn in their tax return early, it shows that they're really desperate for money.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRIDGET: I couldn't believe it. I didn't dare say anything. He's so tender.

WESTON: Oh, that's so sweet.

BRIDGET: You know, I wondered: What is the psychology there? And I was hoping I would hear that. Maybe that's not unique.

CONAN: It sounds, Bridget, you may need to protect him from emails that originate from Nigerian princes, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRIDGET: True, totally.

WESTON: But, you know, I do think there's some idea that if you slip yours in at the last minute, it won't get noticed. The problem with that thinking is, you know, when you do it at the last minute, as the previous speaker was saying, you increase the chances you're going to make a mistake.

If you give it to your tax pro at the last minute, that increases the chances that he or she will make a mistake. So, you know, a little bit of lead time is a really good thing.

CONAN: Bridget, thanks very much for the call, and good luck on your taxes this year. Here's an email from Martha: Doing something on time isn't procrastination. I'm working a little each day. I feel fine about it. Dreads include always snags in downloading TurboTax. I once lost my whole return while filing online.

My state teachers' retirement doesn't know if it's a contribution to our Medicare is taxable, even though when I called they said we get this question all the time. Why don't they clear it up? So many medical expenses aren't covered that one cannot depend on insurance statements. It takes hours trying to rectify and match up real expenses with the statements. So a lot of complaints there.

But yeah, if you get it done on time, on time is on time. But on the other hand, by filing late, that's another couple of months, if you're getting a rebate, you're lending them, the government, money tax-, interest-free.

WESTON: Well, I'm not really too worried about that these days because, you know, it's not like you can earn a ton of money if you had that money in a bank account...

CONAN: Interest rates are pretty low.

WESTON: Yeah, the opportunity cost isn't huge, if you do get a refund. So the only case where I would say you need to change your withholding, if you're getting a big refund at the end of the year, is if you have credit card debt because you should be paying that down.

So if you do have credit card debt, and you get a fat refund, don't wait until the end of the year. Change your withholding now so you get more every paycheck, and then start funneling that money to the credit card companies because that'll save you a lot of interest.

CONAN: Which sounds perfectly sensible, but some people argue, I sort of wait for that little, you know, nest egg every year, that little refund; it's really nice to get in the middle of April.

WESTON: Yeah. I think people really like, you know, seeing that check come or seeing it deposited in their credit - or their checking account directly. And you do see a big bump in used car sales, you know, in the spring when people take those refunds and they go replace their car.

So a lot of people do this, and you know, I wouldn't necessarily feel all that guilty about it, unless, as I said, you have credit card debt or some other high-rate debt that you really should be paying rather than waiting for this big bump at the end of the year.

CONAN: Let's go next to Paul, Paul with us from Animosity Beach in Florida. There's really a place, Paul, named Animosity Beach?

PAUL: Animosity Beach. Yes, sir. It's beautiful down here.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

PAUL: Good to speak to you again there, Mr. Conan. I'm a business owner, so I actually enjoy doing my taxes because it gives me a reason to look closer at the business that I've done over the past year, figure out where I can do better. But I always procrastinate because I hate writing that check.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PAUL: I do. I do. I always do. But to go just a little bit further, you know, we're estimating - so far this year we're estimating that we're going to be spending about $400 billion as a country just complying with the tax system that collects 1.5 trillion. It seems to me that we really need to change the system and go to something like a flat tax, or a fair tax is the one I prefer - just so we can get rid of those inefficiencies. I'm still going to look at my business at the end of the year anyways, but thanks a lot.

CONAN: Paul, I take it your brother-in-law is not an accountant. I guess he's gone off the line. But in any case, well, yeah, there is an argument to be made for tax reform. It is insanely complicated. Getting Congress to change it is also insanely complicated.

WESTON: Yeah, because there's lots of sacred cows that are scattered among the tax code. And, you know, one of the biggest sacred cows is the mortgage interest deduction, and most of the flat tax proposals will take that away. And it's not a big deal to folks in the middle of the country that don't have huge mortgages, but those of us on the coast really don't like that idea. So that's kind of where most flat tax ideas have gone aground, is people don't - you know, who have that mortgage interest deduction don't want to lose it.

CONAN: We're talking about the approach of that annual deadline, tax day this year April 17th. That's next Tuesday. Our guest is Liz Weston, a columnist at MSN Money and author of "Your Credit Score" and "The 10 Commandments of Money." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go to Nate, Nate with us from Collins in New York.

NATE: Hey, how's it going, guys?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

NATE: Hey, I wanted to speak for a lot of the young people who are out there. You know, at tax time - the first time I filed my taxes, it was really intimidating. I was really intimidated, really overwhelmed with the task of doing it. And luckily I was - I had my mom there to help me out with it. And you know, it really is an easy thing once you get to learn how to do it. But you know, after a time I've just looked at professionals to do it for me, you know?

And basically, something - I don't procrastinate with taxes. I'm on top of it. I even bug my employer, so like, when am I going to get my W-2s, you know? And the thing I got my eyes set on is that giant check that comes in the mail every single year, you know, the giant return that I get.

Me and my wife just bought our first car with my tax return this year, so it's really - it's not something that should be procrastinated or that you should wait on, because the sooner you file, the sooner that you're going to get your check in the mail, and you can do something with that, you know?

CONAN: If you get a rebate - refund. A lot of us don't. But Nate, thanks very much for the call. And what kind of car did you get?

NATE: I got a 2010 Dodge Avenger.

CONAN: 2010 Dodge Avenger. It's not a model I'm familiar with. Well, Nate, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. So...

NATE: Not a problem.

CONAN: ...Liz Weston, there's that economic bump you were talking about.

WESTON: That's it. I mean, for some people who have a tough time saving, the refund represents their biggest saving for the whole year, you know? So it's something really nice to see in the mail. And it's - as I said, it's not a huge deal for most people if that's the way you want to do it. I think if you do have debt or, you know, have any problems with that, you should be adjusting the withholding.

Something else he mentioned about bugging his employers for the W-2; I've been hearing from folks on my Facebook page that they haven't received their W-2, or their W-2 is inaccurate or they didn't get other forms they need to file. And now is not the time of year when you want to try to deal with that because just trying to get through the IRS to start the process of fixing that, you know, is going to take you hours. So I would just say if you don't have the forms you need by mid-February, that is when you should be taking action, not now.

CONAN: Let's go next to Cindy, Cindy with us from Denver. Cindy, you there?

CINDY: Hello?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

CINDY: You know, I've always had an accountant do my taxes, even after I was married, and we would move a lot, and so we had two states and lots of W-2s coming in. And then so I decided, you know, rather than giving the accountant the 150, 200 dollars, that I would buy TurboTax. And so for the first time ever, I did our taxes. And the - it holds your hand through the entire process.

So it's - I was definitely, you know, nervous and overwhelmed. And I don't know that my husband had a ton of confidence, but I did it. And my federal taxes are filed, and I just need to either pay the extra $20 for TurboTax to e-file my Colorado taxes or I can print them out and send in the check. And it's - it was so much less painful than I thought it was going to be.

CONAN: And did the numbers come out pretty much the way you expected?

CINDY: Yes. Well, actually - so what I learned was that I think we need to change our W-4 because we're just - we're getting a big refund check, which...

CONAN: Ah.

CINDY: ...we've(ph) already sort of spent it before we've gotten it. But maybe we'll change that so that we don't have so much withheld and it sort of evens out a little bit. So I never knew that kind of stuff before, so I feel like an adult now.

CONAN: Cindy - I'm sure you've been an adult before. Congratulations...

CINDY: (Unintelligible) 40 - I finally feel like an adult.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: There you go. Thanks and congratulations. And, Liz Weston, I'm assuming your taxes long since filed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: Well, they're actually sitting on the desk. I did procrastinate a little bit this year. I did want to say, TurboTax is an excellent product, and it really does hold your hand through the process. I used to do our taxes seven or eight times a year using all the different iterations of tax software, and I still took it to an enrolled agent or a CPA at the end because they would see things I didn't see. They would find deductions that I missed. And I really like having that hand holding.

But if you have a relatively simple setup, you know, you definitely can do your own taxes. Just don't do them by hand. Use software because that's got the, you know, the tax law built into it, and there's - you won't be as at great a risk of screwing it up if you do it by hand.

CONAN: Liz Weston, get cracking.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WESTON: Will do.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your time.

WESTON: My pleasure.

CONAN: Liz Weston, columnist for MSN Money, author of "Your Credit Score" and "The 10 Commandments of Money," with us from her office in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.