Originally created 04/12/98

Tax filers wait until last minute



You have three more days.

The Masters Tournament is about over, Easter is here and April 15 is Wednesday.

If you haven't done your taxes, you might want to get started.

But be prepared: A lot of other people haven't done their taxes, either.

As of April 3, only slightly more than half -- 67.4 million -- of the 124 million individual income tax returns expected this year had been filed, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That put filing only about 0.8 percent ahead of 1997's pace, the IRS said.

So expect professional tax preparers to be booked.

"It's busy," said Melissa Strickland, general manager with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. "We're getting calls right now for appointments."

The Jackson Hewitt office in Martinez has as many as eight people preparing up to 400 returns the week leading up to April 15, Ms. Strickland said.

Not all the last-minute filers are procrastinators, however. Some have been waiting for forms from employers or financial institutions, and others have complicated returns to complete. Changes in the capital gains taxes are giving some people headaches.

The 1997 tax bill reduced the maximum capital gains rate from 28 percent to 20 percent. The complex transition rules created by Congress caused the Schedule D capital gains work sheet to double in size to 54 lines from the year before.

More than 1 million tax returns have been incorrectly filed without a Schedule D, even though the taxpayers reported capital gains on Line 13 of their Form 1040s, IRS spokesman Don Roberts said. The IRS will send the incomplete returns back to filers, asking them to add a Schedule D, which can delay refunds.

Many of these cases appear to involve mutual fund investors who may not realize they have to file the paperwork to reflect capital gains distributions, Mr. Roberts added.

Another problem concerns errors by mutual funds and brokerage firms on Form 1099, which provides taxpayers the amount of dividends, interest and capital gains to be included in a person's income tax return. Wall Street firms complained that the various phase-in dates -- to obtain lower capital gains taxes -- made it difficult to calculate data for Form 1099 by the Jan. 31 deadline.

The Securities Industry Association said the error rate on Forms 1099 tripled to 17 percent for the 1997 tax year.

But whatever your reason for waiting this long, it's too late to avoid the rush.

One thing that can speed up the process if you have someone else prepare the forms is to have everything ready. Get the forms. Total the receipts and amounts in categories. Have your Social Security card.

If you can't file by Wednesday, you'll need to apply for an extension, Form 4868. It is valid until Aug. 17 and must be postmarked by Wednesday, tax preparers say.

If you are mailing your return, the Augusta main post office window service will be open until midnight Wednesday.

In addition, special collection boxes will be out at the Martinez branch, Peach Orchard Branch, Forest Hills Branch, Hill Station and North Augusta post office. Mail at those locations will be collected at midnight Wednesday.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

FOR HELP

The Internal Revenue Service:

-- By phone:(800) TAX-FORM or 829-3676 for forms. (800) TAX-1040 or 829-1040 for assistance. It is available 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

-- (800) TAX-4477 or 829-4477 for Tele-tax refunds.

-- (703) 321-8020 to have forms faxed via the Internet.

-- At the Augusta Office, 2743 Perimeter Parkway, Building 200. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Agents can assist during those times. The office will be open until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Georgia Department of Revenue offers assistance:

-- By phone: (404) 656-4188

-- Via Internet: www.state.ga.us

-- At the Augusta office: Interstate West Office Park, 1054 Claussen Road, Suite 310. Telephone: 737-1870. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. Agents will help prepare taxes from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The South Carolina Department of Revenue offers assistance:

-- By phone:(803) 898-5300 to check refund status

-- (800) 763-1295 for tax assistance

-- (800) 768-3676 for forms by fax via the Internet: www.dor.state.sc.us

-- At the Aiken office: 410 Barnwell Ave. N.W. Telephone: (803) 641-7685. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Agents can assist during those times.