Tax Day is NOT April 15 this year. The federal filing deadline was pushed to July 15, but may differ based on the state your taxes are filed in.
Millions of taxpayers are taking advantage of the IRS decision to push back the tax filing deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with the new tax filing deadline of July 15 just weeks away, those taxpayers need to take some important steps now to get their returns — and payments — to the IRS before then.
Tax season is stressful for many consumers in the best of times, but 2020 has heightened those anxieties. Stay-at-home orders that stretched across the U.S. beginning in March made it more difficult to make in-person visits to tax preparers, while other taxpayers may be struggling with a number of life stressors, including lost income or dealing with COVID-19 illnesses in their families.
About 7.6 million fewer returns have been filed with the IRS as of mid-June compared with a year earlier, says Craig Richards, director of tax services at Fiduciary Trust International, citing IRS statistics. Tax preparers were “stymied because of working from home and not being able to access all of the resources they had while in their offices,” he notes.
The important thing to remember, says Christina Taylor, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax, is that taxpayers need to take action before July 15 to avoid penalties from the IRS.
“The worst thing you can do is to do nothing,” Taylor says. “Taxes aren’t something that just go away.”
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There have been calls for another delay. In a June 12 letter to the IRS, Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat from New York, pointed out that many free tax-prep services have been unavailable to taxpayers during the pandemic, such as the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers, which remain closed. Additionally, Rose noted that many taxpayers are “distressed” and facing financial difficulties. He’s asking for a delay until October 15 to both file taxes and pay owed taxes.
Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said extending the July 15 tax deadline for a second time to Sept. 15 is “something that we may consider.” However, on Monday, the IRS and the Treasury Department said taxpayers should file their returns by July 15, or request an extension until Oct. 15 if they need more time.
Without another delay on the horizon, here’s what tax experts advise for the millions who have yet to file.
Get your tax documents together
The first step is to gather your tax documents for 2019, tax experts say.
Checking your prior year’s tax return can help determine if you’re missing anything, notes Bill Smith, managing director for CBIZ MHM’s National Tax Office. Most tax documents, such as bank or mortgage tax statements, are now available online, but plan ahead to make sure you’re not surprised by a missing document at the last minute.
“Get a mental checklist of, ‘Here’s what I reported last year’ and ‘Do I have that document for this year?’” he says.
Are you ready to file taxes by July 15?
If you realize you won’t be ready to file by July 15, you have the option of filing an extension, which will provide an additional three months to file your tax return.
But there’s a catch: Even though an extension gives you until October 15 to file, you’ll still have to pay any owed taxes by July 15.
If you fail to pay the IRS by July 15 even if you filed an extension, you’ll face penalties, says CBIZ’s Smith.
The penalty for failing to file is more onerous than for failing to pay, however. The IRS will sock you with a “failure to file” penalty of 5% a month for up to five months, maxing out at 25%. The underpayment penalty is 0.5% per month, which also maxes out at 25%.
“If you are in a penalty situation, it can only get worse each month,” Smith notes.
Take advantage of IRA, HSA extensions
Taxpayers also have until July 15 to contribute to their IRAs or health savings accounts, or HSAs, for the 2019 tax year, the IRS says. In typical tax years, the deadline for these contributions is April 15.
If you can sock away more money into your IRA before July 15, you could help your tax situation. For 2019, taxpayers under 50 can contribute up to $6,000, with those over 50 can contribute up to $7,000. While contributions to traditional IRAs are tax-deductible, Roth IRAs aren’t, although you can withdraw funds tax-free as a senior. Contributions to HSAs are also tax-deductible.
Know the options if you can’t pay taxes
Lastly, if you can’t pay your owed taxes, you have some options, says Taylor of Credit Karma Tax.
“A lot more people are in a hardship situation than before COVID hit,” Taylor notes. Some of those taxpayers may want to request an “Offer in Compromise” from the IRS, which allows taxpayers to settle a tax debt for less than they owe.
However, there’s a fee for applying — $205 — unless a taxpayer qualifies for a low-income waiver. The IRS will determine whether they accept a lower offer based on your income, expenses and other financial data.
Lastly, there’s the option of setting up a payment plan with the IRS, which offers a short-term or long-term plan. The short-term plan requires repayment within 120 days, and there’s no fee for signing up. The long-term plan has some set-up fees, such as $31 for those applying online, and is geared to people who can’t pay down their debt within 120 days.
Aimee Picchi is a business journalist whose work appears in publications including USA TODAY, CBS News and Consumer Reports. She spent almost a decade covering tech and media for Bloomberg News. You can find her on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.
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