By Tim Leeds
Tax time may be April 17 instead of April 15 this year, but it's now right around the corner.
This is a busy time for filers, tax preparers and the postal service alike.
"It's total chaos," said Debbie Swanson, CPA, who has been operating Swanson Accounting and Tax service with her family for 20 years. "I've never seen so many late filers."
Swanson said she and her office staff have been working 9 a.m. until midnight, 7 days a week. She said it seems like a lot longer hours this year, and not just this month. She said they've been doing this since January.
She said she can't wait until she can spend some time with her family outside of work, especially her grandchildren.
Cindy Larson, CPA, who has been associated with Linden Duffy for about 20 years, said they are working about 12 hour days, six days a week, but that it doesn't seem any busier than usual this year. She said she's looking forward to two weeks from now, when she can slow down her schedule some.
Barbara Anderson, E.A., owner of H&R Block in Havre, said she thinks it has been busier than normal for them. She said her office is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and will remain open for business on April 17. She said they have been very busy this season.
Anderson said filers should not wait until the very last minute. As in any service operation, she said, people have to give tax preparers enough time if they expect to have a good job done on the preparation. She said more time might be needed for the filer to research and come up with paperwork, as well.
Swanson said she's never seen so many requests for extensions as she has this year. She said she thinks the busyness of the season might extend right up to the August 15 deadline for the first extension.
Anderson said she always warns her customers that the extension is only on the filing; the estimated taxes are still due by the midnight, April 17 deadline even if an extension is granted.
Rich O'Leary, postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service in Havre, said he's seen people on the last day filling their forms out in the post office, then running to get stamps to mail it before the deadline. He said there is usually a run on federal tax forms at the end.
"We go through more forms the last two days than the whole year," he said.
He said people need to be sure they have sufficient postage on their returns, since the IRS will not pay postage due. If a return is sent back to the filer for insufficient postage, their filing will be late, with any penalties and interest accrued.
"People need to realize that the average income tax return takes 55 cents," he said, "33 cents for the first ounce and 22 cents for each additional ounce."
O'Leary said the post office will keep people at the windows to sell stamps and accept mailing until 7 p.m. on April 17 instead of the normal 5:30 p.m. He said the collection and cancellation at the post office will go on until midnight, which is the normal hours. He said the collection boxes in the rest of the town will only be picked up until 5 p.m., which is also the normal hours.
O'Leary said that although the amount of mailing will be much higher, since their operation is mostly automated it won't amount to much extra work for them.
Tax codes require that if the April 15 deadline falls on a weekend or legal holiday, the deadline is extended to the next business day.
Tax time tips
With the April 17 tax filing deadline fast approaching, the IRS has several ways taxpayers can get those last minute forms, publications and assistance.
24-Hour Telephone Assistance: The IRS toll-free tax assistance telephone lines will be available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week through April 17. The toll-free number is 1-800-829-1040.
Fax on Demand - IRS Tax Forms and Publications: You may request tax forms using your fax machine. Over 140 of the most frequently requested IRS tax forms are available and can be duplicated to meet your needs. Dial 703-368-9694 (not toll-free) from the voice unit of your fax machine. You will receive your needed tax forms immediately.
IRS online - The Information Highway: Using your personal computer, you can access a variety of services including IRS forms and publications, education materials and IRS press releases and fact sheets. You can reach this service using your PC and one of the following methods:
Internet access - http://www.irs.gov
Direct dial by modem through IRIS - 703-321-8020.
Forms and Publications: You can order forms, instructions and publications by calling, toll-free, 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676) between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. You will receive the forms and publications in approximately 7 to 15 days.
Teletax: Over 140 informational tax topics are available by the telephone that will answer many federal tax questions. This service is available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week by calling, toll-free, 1-800-829-4477.
Before you mail your return, answer the following questions:
Are all name(s) listed on the return?
Are all Social Security Numbers listed on the return?
Did you check all math for errors?
Did you sign your return? Did your spouse sign if filing joint?
Did you attach all W-2 forms and 1099s as required?
Did you put a stamp on the envelope?
Did you sign any check(s) included?
Can't file by April 17? File for 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, by April 17. This is an extension to file your paperwork, it is not an extension to pay the tax owed.
Can't pay by April 17? File on time and request an Installment Agreement by attaching Form 946, Installment Agreement Request, to the front of the return. If approved, the payment agreement costs $43 to set up and $21 if any changes or additions are made later.
Need to adjust your W-4? Do you have to pay because you didn't have enough tax withheld from your paycheck? Follow the worksheet attached to Form W-4, Employee Withholding Allowance Certificate, to make any changes.
Are you eligible for Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit? If a qualifying child lives with you and you expect to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, you may be able to get part of the credit paid to you in advance throughout the year (by your employer) instead of waiting until you file your return. File Form W-5, Earned Income Credit Advanced Payment Certificate, and your employer will include part of the credit regularly in your pay.