April 13, 2009 in City

Tax procrastinators take note: Act now or pay the price later

By The Spokesman-Review
 
McClatchy Tribune photo

McClatchy Tribune
(Full-size photo)

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you might want to start counting the hours – rather than days – until deadline.

Tax returns, and any taxes owed, must be filed online or postmarked by Wednesday. You can get an extension on the return, but you’ve got to pay those taxes by the April 15 deadline – the penalty for failing to do so is steep.

If you file for an extension to push back your deadline until Oct. 15 and can’t afford to pay the estimated tax beforehand, you’ll incur interest and a penalty of 0.5 percent a month on the unpaid balance, up to 25 percent, according to Kiplinger.com.

But that’s cheaper than if you don’t file at all. If you file for an extension and pay a $5,000 tax bill three months late, you’ll owe a $75 penalty plus interest. If you don’t file and pay the same amount three months late, you’ll owe $750 plus interest, Kiplinger says.

Here are some questions and answers about last-minute filing:

Q: What should I do if I haven’t filed my taxes?

A: Don’t panic. You can either buckle down and get them done in your remaining time – this is more or less practical depending on the complexity of your tax situation – or seek an extension. In either case, you’re not alone: An estimated 25 percent of all tax filers don’t turn in their forms until the week before April 15.

One option if you’re running out of time is to hire someone to file them. Services such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt can likely squeeze you in. Betty Baker, a tax professional with H&R Block in Spokane, said with online filing, it’s easier to get people taken care of quickly.

“We’re trying to accommodate people who just didn’t get it done yet,” she said. “Our goal is not to file an extension unless there’s a real need.”

Q: When is the “last minute,” precisely?

A: Some of you may remember when the post office kept some branches open until the literal last minute of April 15. You shouldn’t count on such latitude anymore – with the advent of online filing and rapid refunds, fewer people wait until the absolute deadline to use the regular mail, and the U.S. Postal Service has scaled way back on late hours.

If you’re dying to push the deadline, there is one midnight pickup option at a blue box in Spokane – the mailbox at 2928 S. Spotted Road at the mail processing center. One important thing to keep in mind: There is no postage for sale at the center.

Several other blue boxes will have late pickup on Wednesday: Riverside Station, 904 W. Riverside Ave., at 5 and 6:30; 1617 Northwest Blvd. and 301 S. Thor, 6 p.m.; 150 E. 2nd Ave., 7 p.m. Most “retail” post offices will close at 5, though a few will stay open until 5:30.

There are also some after-hours options at grocery stores and other places that have postal windows, but Lisa Nystuen, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said the safest bet after business hours is the Spotted Road mailbox, at the mail processing plant.

“The plant really is the best way, because you’re putting it right in the hands of the people who are going to put it on the plane,” she said.

The post office in Coeur d’Alene will keep regular hours on Wednesday, closing at 5.

Q: How do I go about filing an extension?

A: On or before April 15, simply file Form 4868 to get an automatic extension on your personal tax return. The form for the extension is available on the IRS Web site – along with a host of other tips, forms and resources: www.irs.gov/index.html.

There’s a caveat with an extension, and a big one: If you owe taxes, or estimate that you will, they’re still due April 15. The IRS Web site will walk you through the forms and the process, or you can get help from a tax preparer.

Idaho residents also have state income tax to contend with. If you can’t file by the deadline and you will owe taxes, you may qualify for a six-month extension by paying an estimated 80 percent of the tax you owe or 100 percent of your 2007 taxes. If you can’t pay your taxes by the deadline, contact the Tax Commission to set up a payment plan.

For more, see tax.idaho.gov or call at (800) 972-7660.

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