Originally created 04/12/98

Taxpayers cope with process differently



Cynthia Butler figures her life would be much easier if she sold everything she owns and lived under a bridge.

The luxury of owning two homes that a good-paying and stable job affords has its price, and it's that time of year to pay up. It's just too complicated to figure out the price on her own.

With piles of canceled checks, crinkled receipts and foreign-looking forms in hand, the Augusta psychologist spent her Saturday afternoon at downtown's H&R Block, having her 1997 taxes prepared.

"Is this late?" she replied when asked why she waited until the last minute to file her returns. "Usually I get to it in December, so I'm way ahead of the game this year.

"I pay late fees in everything. I'm one of the people that keeps society going; my whole life is late fees."

Annie Blount sorts the W2 forms and arranges them on her desk. In front of her computer sits a wooden knickknack with googily-eyed walnuts glued to it. "I'm going nuts" it reads.

The office manager and a tax preparer at H&R Block, she said traffic has been a bit slow, primarily because of the Masters Tournament and Easter Sunday, but she expects the next three days to be insane.

"At this point, folks with large returns are coming in," she said. "In the haste, they have to keep coming back, because they forget their papers and forms."

The Augusta office of the Georgia Department of Revenue has fielded many requests for tax forms and preparation, and the golf traffic made it difficult for residents to get to the office off Washington Road in west Augusta.

The office will be preparing taxes from 8:30 until 11 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Karen Stinson, an enrolled agent at H&R Block Premium on Pleasant Home Road, said the changes in capital gains laws are bringing people in who have always done the preparation themselves.

"Most of my experience is that people just don't like facing the tax; it's stressful to get the paperwork together, and some don't think they should have to pay taxes," Ms. Stinson said. "Even if they are getting back money, they don't want to deal with it. We have people who are getting back money but still don't file until the 15th."

One of the biggest misconceptions in tax filing is that residents can ask for an extension if they can't pay their taxes right away, she said.

"Even if you file for an extension, you still have to send your payment in with the extension," Ms. Stinson said, which means you have to at the very least roughly figure out what you may owe. "Not being able to pay is not a reason to file an extension."

Extensions are usually given to people who have moved and still are waiting to receive forms.

If you can't afford your entire payment, you can set up installments with the IRS.

"But if you can get the money from anywhere else, I would suggest that, because it's very expensive," Ms. Stinson said. You can pay up to 25 percent more if you request installments, she said.

To accommodate late filers, the U.S. Post Office will extend its window hours Wednesday until midnight, and special collection boxes will be placed at the main branch, and Martinez, Hill Station, Peach Orchard and Forest Hills branches. The boxes will be collected at midnight.