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When Do Americans Seek Help on Their Taxes?

This year’s tax season will be a doozy. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” enacted in 2017, was the largest overhaul in decades, changing everything from income-tax rates to mortgage-interest deductions. According to The Wall Street Journal, tax filings under the new law got off to a slower start than they did last year, signaling filers’ deliberation while navigating the changes. And many early filers are scratching their heads at smaller-than-expected tax returns, due to  changes the IRS made last year to income-tax withholding tables.

Might this signal a wave of delayed filers in 2019? Or have Americans already started the annual scramble to get their books in order? A dive into Yelp’s data stores reveals many people’s tax preparation starts much earlier than you’d think.

When preparing to file taxes, many Americans turn to Yelp to find accountants and tax services. For such businesses, we measured their share of all calls and page views for related business categories, a share we’ll use to track the interest in tax prep over time. Tax businesses’ share yields the following 2018 findings:

  1. Most people start looking early: Page views peak one week after the beginning of tax season (the first day that the IRS accepts tax filings) to double the non-tax season page-view share;
  2. People start to seek help before the IRS even accepts filings: Page views reach almost 50% of their peak value two weeks before tax season opens;
  3. But people still procrastinate on contacting the pros: Calls peak in the final week before the tax-filing deadline to quadruple the non-tax season call share.

Taken together, this paints a picture of both preparers and procrastinators; even before 2018, we see a pattern of early researchers and last-minute callers.  

How about 2019? Data hot off the app shows page views one week after the beginning of tax season are still double their non-tax-season share. As of February 19th, we observe a similar spike in phone calls, establishing a consistent pattern in outreach to tax service professionals over the last three years.

So when’s the best time to start preparing your taxes? For many Americans, two weeks ago. For others, two months from now. Just be mindful of the annual frenzy one week before April 15!