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Some People Are Bent Out of Shape Over the ‘Compressed’ Tax Season

Earlier in the roundup, we linked to The Hill story that brought the unfortunate news that anyone itemizing expenses their tax return will “have to wait until mid- to late February to file their returns.”

The IRS is acutely aware of the problem but lucky for all of you, Emancipation Day falls on April 15th this year (and is effectively a national holiday for tax purposes), so the Service extended filing deadline is Monday, April 18th:

The Internal Revenue Service today opened the 2011 tax filing season by announcing that taxpayers have until April 18 to file their tax returns. The IRS reminded taxpayers impacted by recent tax law changes that using e-file is the best way to ensure accurate tax returns and get faster refunds.

Taxpayers will have until Monday, April 18 to file their 2010 tax returns and pay any tax due because Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia, falls this year on Friday, April 15. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do; therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Oct. 17 to file their 2010 tax returns.

The IRS expects to receive more than 140 million individual tax returns this year, with most of those being filed by the April 18 deadline.

Despite the extra 72 hours of fun, some people would rather focus on this “mid- to late February” business, namely, John Ams of the National Society of Accountants, as reported by NPR:

“What this has done is effectively compress the tax season from three months to just six weeks,” says John Ams, executive vice president of the National Society of Accountants.

Now, we don’t know Mr Ams backgound but his bio over at the NSA states that he is a Chief Audit Executive and we have no doubt that he’s a more than capable accountant. But most abacus wielders we know are pretty familiar with deadlines snafus, doing more work in less time and waiting on additional information. In fact, any accountant worth their salt has plenty of stories of pulling emergency all-nighters for week(s) to make sure a project gets accomplished on time only to get the very last piece of data needed at the 11th hour. NOW, when the IRS explains that Congress – who is only reliable for being unreliable – has forced their hand into this less-than ideal predicament, apparently it’s okay to get all huffy about it. [breathe] Look, the majority of the work on these tax returns can simply be done and then the 1040 jockeys will just wait for the rest of the information. It isn’t – as it’s popular to say – rocket science.

But forget about the shrinking tax season, Mr Ams wants you to think about the Luddites!

Some of the changes to the tax code will be a headache for tax preparers and their clients at the busiest time of the year, Ams says. One rule, for example, requires anyone preparing more than 100 returns per year to file them electronically, while the other forces tax preparers to get an identification number.

“Electronic filing is great and most accounts [sic] love it. But there are many clients out there, in particular the elderly, who still believe computers are the work of the devil,” Ams says. “They don’t want sensitive data like tax information going over the Internet.”

If people don’t want to e-file, Ams says, “we’re supposed to say: ‘Here’s your form. See ya.'”

Christ. We know grandmothers that use text messaging. Plus, CPAs have been saying “Here are your forms. Sign here, here, here and here. Oh, and here. See ya next year (but only if you pay),” for decades and people have made due. Can anyone explain how this is still a problem?

IRS Kicks Off 2011 Tax Season with Deadline Extended to April 18 [IRS]
The Tax Man Cometh, But This Year He’ll Be Late [NPR]

Three Important Filing Tips for Luddites

There is an immense body of law governing whether last-minute tax filings are timely. So often a cheap little postmark is all that stands between a taxpayer and tax catastrophe. With the IRS herding preparers and taxpayers towards e-filing, timely-mailed, timely-filed cases may seem like an arcane body of law, like piracy cases, but paper filing still has some proud hard-core holdouts, and sometimes only a paper filing will do. At the Tax Court, for example, where the website says “Initial filings, such as the petition, may be filed only in paper form.”

The tax law says that a tax return is considered timely-filed if it is mailed on the due date, but the shift to e-filing can make things awkward for paper filers. For example, few post offices still offer late April 15 hours for last-minute paper filers. Stepping into the last-minute filer void are authorized private carriers of tax documents, like FedEx and UPS. A proper shipping document by an authorized private carrier can document timely filing. That gives taxpayers new ways to meet disaster, as the Tax Court illustrated this week.

A California couple wanting to take the IRS to Tax Court had a July 20, 2009 deadline for filing their petition. They filed by FedEx, perhaps at a FedEx/Kinkos location. They generated a shipping label on their home computer with a July 20 date. But FedEx spoiled everything, as the Tax Court explains:

The petition, which was sent by FedEx Express (FedEx), was received and filed by the Court on Thursday, July 23, 2009. The envelope containing the petition bore two shipping labels. The first shipping label, which had been placed inside a clear plastic pouch adhered to the envelope, had been electronically generated by the sender using FedEx Ship Manager (customer generated label). The second shipping label, which had been affixed to the outside of the clear plastic pouch, had been electronically generated by FedEx (FedEx-generated label).

Of course the FedEx-generated label had a July 21 date. And that, says the Tax Court, is the date that counts, and our couple was out of luck.

So what does that mean to you?

• File electronically if you can. You get a nice electronic confirmation that you can beat up the IRS with, and you don’t have to worry about your valuable tax forms going awry.

• If you must paper-file, Registered Mail or Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, are still the best deal in town. They’ll generally be cheaper than a private carrier, and that hand-stamped certified mail postmark has the same effect on IRS agents as sunlight on Dracula.

• If you find yourself at FedEx/Kinkos late on April 15, make sure the clerk knows that you need them to stamp it before midnight. If you use private delivery, be sure to use the proper street address, as the private carriers can’t deliver to post office boxes.

Otherwise, you might find yourself trying to reach Jiffy Express.