The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chip Minemyer

April 1, 2012

Chip Minemyer | Are you a tax procrastinator? The clock is ticking ...

— Have you filed your taxes?

No, that was not an April Fool’s Day scare tactic.

Surprisingly, despite the advancement of technology and the popularity of online tax filing, many of you are still waiting until the last minute to pay the government – admittedly an unpleasant task no matter when you do it.

Jennifer Jenkins, a field relations agent with the IRS, visited Johnstown last week and predicted that “we will hit 80 percent e-filing this year.”

That was the goal set by Congress – that four of five tax filers would do so online.

That represents a jump from two-thirds in 2009.

But even online doesn’t mean early.

“We all remember when a lot of the post offices used to offer midnight drop-offs on April 15 with all of their lights on and everything,” Jenkins said.

“But still, 20 to 25 percent wait until the last couple of weeks to file. And some people procrastinate no matter if they’re getting money back or not.”

This year’s federal deadline is April 17 – something you might not have realized. (Consider this a public service ...)

The traditional tax date of April 15 falls on Sunday, so you get a break there.

And April 16 is a local holiday in Washington, D.C. – Emancipation Day, set aside to honor the date in 1862 when President Lincoln signed legislation freeing slaves in the nation’s capital.

(Lincoln’s national Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t signed until the following January.)

And if you file early, you can still hold back payment until the deadline date – kind of like a post-dated check.

But despite all of that – two days’ worth of additional time for putting things off – some people will still find themselves filing for an extension.

Jenkins said a common misperception is that an extension for filing means an extension to begin paying the money, if you find yourself on that side of the equation.

Well, it turns out that’s not the case. But she said you can arrange to make payments.

“The extension is available for the filing of paperwork, but not for money you owe,” Jenkins said. “Otherwise, you do run the risk of incurring late fees if the money is not received by the deadline.”

There are two major benefits to the shift to e-filing, she said.

First, it saves the government money. (Which should mean it saves taxpayers money, but you know how that generally works out.)

That’s because handling a paper tax form is 20 times as costly for the IRS as processing an electronic form.

In addition, Jenkins said, your personal information is actually more secure if you file online than if you mail in your tax return.

And she said many potential mistakes are caught early because the electronic forms calculate things as you go.

“We’re taking more steps to combat identity theft and refund fraud,” she said.

“We’ve installed more screening software.”

Jenkins added: “I don’t want to throw down the challenge for someone to begin trying to break the locks, but e-filing is safe and it’s fast.

“And it helps to promote accuracy in a return.”

She urged all of us to be organized all year – to be ready for tax time.

Once April 17 comes and goes, she said, folks should start getting ready for 2013.

“People should already be thinking about how they can do things better next year to avoid that last-minute rush,” she said. “You should keep your records together in a safe place – your child-care receipts, your medical receipts. I would suggest keeping them in a folder and not have them scattered all over the house.”

There you have it.

Happy tax time. No foolin’.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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