Clock ticking for last-minute tax filers

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Master Tax Advisors T.J. Soni, left, and Jean Kelly stand next to a promotional cardboard cut-out in front of their H&R Block office located at 11445 Coursey Blvd.. Kelly said they will be there helping last-minute filers get their taxes into the system. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Master Tax Advisors T.J. Soni, left, and Jean Kelly stand next to a promotional cardboard cut-out in front of their H&R Block office located at 11445 Coursey Blvd.. Kelly said they will be there helping last-minute filers get their taxes into the system.

Area tax preparers are seeing higher-than-usual numbers of late filers as the deadline nears for submitting federal tax returns.

“Percentagewise, I would say quite a few this year, actually,” said T.J. Soni, office manager for H&R Block’s Coursey Boulevard location.

More than 25 percent of people file their returns between April 1 and the April 15 deadline, according to H&R Block. In Louisiana, that could amount to about 500,000 returns, based on the 2 million-plus returns the Internal Revenue Service expects to be filed in Louisiana.

More than 1.7 million of those returns will be filed electronically, the IRS said, and that’s a good thing for late filers.

Filing electronically, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, reduces return errors because the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and helps prevent taxpayers from leaving out any information. There is also a free option for every filer.

The stakes can be high for those receiving refunds. The IRS estimated that through the end of February the average refund nationally exceeded $3,000.

Other tips for late filers include making sure they:

  • Send paper returns to the right address. Paper filers should check IRS.gov or their form instructions for the appropriate address.
  • Select the correct column in the tax tables for filing status.
  • Fill in all requested information clearly. Check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.
  • Review all figures. Math errors remain common on paper returns.

“At this point, it is very important they just come file,” Soni said. “We’ll work till midnight if we have to to get those returns out, even if they come now. Even if they come Monday.”

If a taxpayer isn’t filing because he or she is missing some records, Soni recommends filing anyway and amending the return later.

The failure to file penalty is 10 times the failure-to-pay penalty, said Jean L. Kelly, a master tax adviser at H&R Block’s Coursey office. So it’s important to file a return.

For example, someone who owes $4,500 to the government is looking at a penalty of $225 per month if they don’t file, but $22.50 a month for not paying, Kelly said. And the taxpayer still has to pay the taxes owed.

Jillian Sergio, who oversees the Capital Area United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance effort, said VITA has 22 locations in the area where people can get last-minute, free tax preparation.

People can find those listings, hours, languages spoken and other details at cauw.org/taxprep or by dialing 211. Tax filers should bring all their information, including Social Security numbers and IDs for anyone on the tax return and all income documents.

“Really, anything you get in the mail that looks somewhat important,” Sergio said. “A lot of the time, people come to the site and we ask for something, and then we have to send them away to get a document that’s important.”

In the last week of tax season, VITA usually helps 650 to 750 people prepare their taxes, Sergio said. Since the last few days are very busy, people should call as soon as they can to get an appointment.

Soni said if a person has to, he or she can file an extension that will give them an additional six months to file their return.

But the filing extension doesn’t give the person extra time to pay their estimated taxes, she said. The taxes are still due April 15, and the taxpayer basically has to go through the entire filing to figure out what is due.

“If they owe money, the extension really doesn’t do them any good other than saving them from late-filing penalties, which usually are about $100 or so,” Soni said.

The IRS says the fastest and easiest way to get the extra time is through the Free File link on IRS.gov. It takes only minutes and anyone, regardless of income, can use the free service to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension on Form 4868.

For people who owe taxes, the IRS makes a number of e-payment options available, or filers can send in a check or money order payable to the United States Treasury.

Soni said the agency will help taxpayers set up monthly payment arrangements.

Usually the IRS wants the tax paid off in a year, but the agency may allow taxpayers more time than that, Soni said. The IRS is not the monster the agency has been portrayed as, Soni said.