A slow start to the tax season and a filing deadline that falls on a Monday have millions of people rushing to complete their returns this weekend and thousands more realizing they will need more time, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service reported Tuesday.
According to the IRS, roughly one in five Americans file their federal and state income returns in the final week before the April 15 deadline, a statistic officials believe will play more prominently this year because recent tax changes required that the U.S. Department of Treasury rework many forms.
To help ease the pressure on procrastinators, local tax preparers announced this week that they are extending their hours and offering special promotions.
Jackson Hewitt Tax Service plans to stay open longer and give filers a $20 discount if they print and bring in an online coupon. Jackson Hewitt has five locations in Augusta, four in Aiken, one in Evans and two each in Martinez and Grovetown.
H&R Block, which has seven locations in Augusta, three in Martinez and one each in Aiken, Evans and Grovetown, is offering free tax extension filing.
“If you have yet to submit a tax return, don’t fret,” said Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt. “It’s important to meet with a tax preparer so that the last-minute rush doesn’t result in any costly mistakes or delays with your return.”
For example, Mark Green, an IRS spokesman, said about 31,000 Georgians who haven’t filed a return for 2009 are missing out on more than $27 million in unclaimed refunds, half of which will total more than $538.
To collect, Green said, 2009 tax returns must be filed with the IRS no later than Monday. He suggested taxpayers file electronically for free through a tax preparer, personal computer, online software or the IRS’s Free File Program at irs.gov.
“We see a dramatic reduction in the number of errors with tax returns that are filed electronically,” Green said. “And better yet, if you choose direct deposit, you can have your refund placed in your bank account in as little as 21 days.”
H&R Block also is providing additional information online for late-season filers through its Extension Resource Center. A survey by its Tax Institute revealed that almost half of Americans weren’t aware they still had to pay taxes owed even if they filed a tax return extension.
“Rushing to file a tax return by the deadline can mean missing out on claiming valuable tax breaks that can cost taxpayers more in taxes than they actually owe,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. She said that taxpayers might want assistance in filing an extension or to ensure they file an accurate return.
On average, more than 10 million taxpayers applied for a tax filing extension each of the past few years. This gave them time to file accurate returns and avoid the 5 percent monthly failure-to file-penalty and an extra six months to file a tax return, making the new filing deadline Oct. 15. Taxpayers residing outside the country (including members of the military) routinely receive an additional two months to file, making their deadline June 15 this year.
Taxpayers should be mindful of the following tips:
- Gather all necessary tax documents, including: W-2s, any 1099s, records of expenses such as tuition and associated fees for yourself, your spouse and dependents. Be sure to include any mortgage interest and real estate taxes, charitable contributions and medical expenses as well. Using a copy of last year’s return may help in gathering records.
- File electronically. Not only is it faster and more accurate, it also provides a confirmation of receipt, so taxpayers know their returns have been received before the deadline.
- Don’t overlook any deductions or credits. In addition to the tax law changes, don’t forget about any life changes that may drive new tax benefits, such as marriage, divorce or child adoption. Make sure the name with the Social Security Administration matches the name on all identification and income information.
- Ask about extensions. By requesting an extension, returns can be postponed until Oct. 15. Taxpayers should keep in mind that an extension does not give them additional time to pay any taxes owed.