How to overcome the pain of tax procrastination

With Inland Revenue (IRD) currently charging a penalty of seven percent interest, you would think that every single business owner in New Zealand would be highly motivated to get their tax issues sorted.

Why then, is tax procrastination a problem?

Tax is an obligation. We have no choice but to get on top of it. Whether that's paying on time if we can or, if we can't, making alternative arrangements. Solutions may include tax pooling through Tax Management NZ or reaching an agreement with IRD. However, there is a segment of Kiwi taxpayers who continue to bury their heads in the sand despite the potential pain it may cause.

However, tax procrastination, it turns out, is a 'thing' and it's not laziness either.

Dr Piers Steel, author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done calls procrastination 'self-harm'. It's hard to argue with him when you consider the breath-taking tax penalty regime we face in New Zealand.

Dr Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, recently told the New York Times: “Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond”.

In short, we use procrastination to manage an immediate negative mood rather than with getting on with the task.

Beating tax procrastination

Carleton University’s Tim Pychyl suggests that the next time you feel inclined to put off something – like getting your tax sorted – you should simplify your focus down to taking the first step. The very next action helps shift your primary emotion.

“Once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything,” he says.

First tasks

Having a handful of obvious first steps you can take will help start you on that critical first step.

1. First step, get expert advice

If you are concerned about cashflow, particularly in this year marred by COVID-19, find a tax adviser (your accountant or tax consultant). Should you already have one, pick up the phone and speak to him or her about your options – even if it's to book an appointment.

Take that first step.

2. List your next steps

In partnership with your tax adviser, get an understanding of what all your options are. These may include tax pooling or coming to an arrangement with IRD for an extension, or a repayment schedule. Do you qualify for Working for Families or the temporary tax loss carry-back regime?

Knowing your options helps you put in place tangible next steps.

3. Reduce the workload

Sometimes the thought of having to gather all the bits and pieces of information we need can seem like a chore well worth postponing. To combat this, put in place a system that keeps your source of financial information at your fingertips.

One Auckland accounting firm reports that they have to chase at least 30 percent off their clients for 'bits of information' and it can take months. Most businesses are GST registered, which means that at least 90 percent of your needed business data is already available by the time you file your GST return. Almost every accounting software package on the market will likely have an app that lets you track receipts and other financial information in real-time.

According to research, procrastination (in all its guises) can be associated with high stress and related acute health problems. That's because the things we procrastinate never go away.

Avoid the costs of tax procrastination. Know what steps you're going to take and start taking them today.