April 17 is coming, and no matter how much you wish it so, your income tax forms will not magically fill themselves out.
Someone’s got to put pencil to paper, fingertips to calculator keys, pliers to the child-proof aspirin bottle cap.
And that someone’s initials are Y.O.U.
If you’re a tax procrastinator, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s a veritable horde of like-minded souls when it comes to the 1040 Dawdle Dance, says Internal Revenue Services spokesman Clay Sanford of the agency’s Dallas office.
“Traditionally between 20 and 25 percent of filers wait until the final two weeks of the filing season,” Sanford said in a recent interview. “And about 7 percent of taxpayers seek a six-month extension to file.”
So, maybe a third of the nation’s tax filers are living on the edge, and you’re one of them.
Here’s a look at some of your options and concerns as midnight of April 17 ticks ever closer.
■ Ask for an extension.
It’s not a bad idea, and as Sanford said, about 7 percent of taxpayers do take advantage of it. And everyone’s entitled to an automatic six-month delay.
But an extension to file, according to IRS literature, doesn’t buy you more time to come up with the money you think you’ll owe.
To get the extension, fill out IRS Form 4868. Form 4868 asks for an estimate of the total tax liability, and to total what’s already covered through payroll and other withholdings. If there’s a balance due the government, you have to send a check for 90 percent of the estimated balance with the request.
If you don’t send a check and you owe money, or your estimate is short of the 90-percent requirement, you may be subject to a penalty, the IRS says.
■ Just do it — online
More than three out of four taxpayers e-file, Sanford said, whether they’re using a commercial preparer, or working with Free File — a public-private partnership between the IRS and 15 tax-preparation software businesses. Including taxpayers seeking extensions, the IRS official said, more than 77 percent of 2011’s tax filings were done electronically.
The service is free and generally available to tax filers whose adjusted gross income is below $57,000. Under the agreement, the private businesses are allowed to set income eligibility levels below $57,000. Sanford said the $57,000 threshold covers about 70 percent of all tax filers, including married couples filing joint returns.
By going through IRS Free File, the taxpayer gets free use of the chosen tax preparation company’s software.
And the combination of electronic filing and direct deposit allows the taxpayer who’s expecting a refund to start tracking the money within 72 hours.
■ I’m not sure what I’m doing
The IRS supports two free assistance programs for people who need help with tax preparation and meet income or age qualifications. In Lubbock, the Coalition of Community Assistance Volunteers provides free tax preparation service for the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.
VITA provides basic income tax preparation assistance to people with incomes of $50,000 or less, and provides information on special tax credit programs such as the Earned Income credit, Child Tax Credit and Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. Taxpayers ages 60 and older are eligible for the TCE program, which specializes in helping seniors deal with the special tax issues arising from pensions and other retirement funds.
Shari Flynn, the coalition’s administrator, said the volunteers have been busier than ever this tax season, preparing returns for more than 1,500 people. And, she said, those preparations have included people who are amending returns from previous years.
Flynn said the volunteers can handle most routine tax filings, but “we don’t do things like farming, or things that have highly specialized schedules of depreciation or depletion. We send those people to commercial preparers.”
It’s a walk-in process, and Flynn said, it’s simple. “We want them to bring all their paperwork, and we’ll ask them about a million questions, because we want them to get back all the money they should.”
The community coalition’s office, 5601 Ave. Q, is open this week on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 5-8 p.m., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday, and Saturday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. The office’s last day will be Monday, April 16, and volunteers will be available from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
“That will be a busy day,” Flynn said.
■ I owe, but I can’t pay it all...
You still have to meet the filing and payment deadline. IRS officials suggest paying what you can at the time, and contacting the agency to discuss your options.
This year, the IRS has raised the debt threshold for applying online for a six-year installment agreement to $50,000 from $25,000.
Sanford said that increase makes the streamlined payment process available some 75 percent of the people who can’t afford to cover the bill.
■ But I love that dash to the post office...
You can still download the forms and fill them out by hand, or use the IRS’ fillable forms on your computer.
Sanford warns that the closer people get to deadline, the more often math errors occur. Another source of errors that can snag paper returns, he said, is copying numbers incorrectly from the tax tables that are part of the instructions for each tax form.
And while the U.S. Postal Service has been eliminating the “midnight collection” in other cities because of the growing trend toward electronic filing, Lubbock’s not on the list yet.
USPS regional spokesman Sam Bolen in Austin said employees at Lubbock’s mail processing center, 1515 Crickets Ave., will take tax filings until midnight April 17. But no other late retail postal services will be available, he added.
Filers can put their envelopes in other mailboxes earlier in the day as long as the envelope is in the box before the collection deadline for that box.
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