Last-minute taxpayers scramble to file

It’s April 16. Do you know where your tax returns are?
PHOTOGRAPHER:

It’s April 16. Do you know where your tax returns are?

If you answered, ‘Postmarked and in the mail,’ or ‘Transmitted via cyberspace,’ you’ve earned a gold star. If you’re one of the half-million New Yorkers who filed for an extension, you have until Oct. 15, 2008, to get your financial act together.

Procrastinators galore queued up at area post offices Tuesday, some chagrined, some defiant, most of them resigned to the inevitibility of paying Uncle Sam.

“I always like to hold onto my money as long as possible,” Rob Guarino of Saratoga Springs said as he waited in line at the Malta Post Office at midday. “You have to do it. I don’t enjoy it. The forms are unbelievably complicated; it took me about six hours to fill out 14 pages.”

Renee Summers, who works for a Malta doctor’s office, ran in to post her returns at lunchtime.

“I had the paperwork done, but waited until today to file,” Summers said. “It’s not something you look forward to.”

Several local post offices were scheduled to burn the midnight oil, keeping their doors and mailboxes open until midnight.

Despite the disgruntled taxpayers, IRS officials said they’re working to simplify the whole process and take some of the sting away when the taxman comes knocking.

“We have ongoing efforts to make filing easier, and doing it electronically is by far the easiest way,” Dianne Besunder, spokeswoman for the IRS Northeastern U.S. region said. “There are so many benefits to filing this way. The computer does all the calculations, which sends the error rate way down; you get your refund sooner and you get an automated response that your filing was received.”

Whether you let the computer calculate for you, or you get out the handheld calculator, chances are good it won’t be the mathematical equations that trip you up and kick your forms back for errors. Instead, most mistakes tend to be of the common sense variety.

“The most frequent errors are people writing down their Social Security number wrong, not signing the forms at the end, or not dating it,” Besunder said.

The old saying, ‘The check’s in the mail,’ won’t work for long; eventually the IRS will sift through copies of your W2 and 1099 forms and put two and two together.

“It would take months, but you would get notified if you didn’t file a return,” Besunder said. “We won’t go to extreme collection methods like sending someone to knock on your door, but the worst thing a person can do is ignore a letter from the IRS.”

It’s also not IRS protocol to demand payment in full once your errors are ferreted out.

“Even if you have an outstanding bill, we work with people to make payments over time,” Besunder said. “Our goal as IRS employees is to collect revenues, but that doesn’t mean we single people out and make it tough on them.”

Tax returns were also due to the New York state Department of Taxation and Finance, but the agency wants to get word out that filing income forms could pad, rather than empty, your bank account.

“By the end of the year, we’ll have sent back $5.5 billion in tax refunds,” spokesman Thomas Bergin said. “There’s such a negative connotation to tax time, but people can get a lot back.”

Today is usually a day of celebration, or a nap, for tax preparers across the country. Locally, experts who’ve pored through many a shoebox full of receipts carried in by confused clients said after a short break, they’ll get back to work.

“Even if people have the extension, we like to get them done and filed by April 30,” said Brooke Millington, owner of Brooke & Sons Tax Service in Schenectady, who prepares about 1,000 returns a year. “For us in the business, April 15 is like exam day; I’ll definitely take a huge breath [today].”

At Liberty Tax, with branches across the Capital Region, stragglers facing the traditional April 15 D day were still rushing in Tuesday with a distinct aura of panic.

“For the people who came in, I can get their returns done by midnight,” Jim Russell, tax preparer at Liberty Tax in Albany said. “I do it electronically of course. But by far my busiest day of the tax season was last Tuesday, when people still had a week to go.”

At Bentley’s Restaurant across the parking lot from the Malta Post Office Tuesday afternoon, staff member Christina Atalla of Mechanicville was smiling ear-to-ear.

“Everyone hates tax day, but I filed my returns as soon as I got my W-2’s,” Atalla said. “I already got my return and put it away to pay some bills. We see a lot of cars driving by on the way to the post office, and I’m glad I’m not one of them. You see a lot of stressed-out people today, but it’s a cheerful one for me.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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