If you had a refund coming for any of your 2019 taxes, you probably filed your tax returns months ago, when the novel coronavirus was still something only happening in other countries.
But if you owed the federal or state governments even one pretty penny and were relieved when the federal response to the pandemic included postponing the April 15 tax filing deadline, the day of reckoning is at hand. The revised filing deadline for both federal and state tax returns is Wednesday, July 15.
The IRS said penalties and interest will begin to accrue on any remaining unpaid balances as of July 16, so the best way to avoid that situation is to pay whatever is owed by the deadline. The same applies to the state returns.
While a lot of taxpayers have already filed, a lot haven’t — and may have good reason. Stay-at-home orders made it difficult to make visits to tax preparers, thousands in the Capital Region alone lost their jobs, and thousands more had COVID-19 touch their families.
The IRS reported that through mid-June, it had received 136.5 million returns, a 5.3 percent decrease from last year. But with the IRS also having suffered from staffing reductions to try to slow the spread of the virus, it had processed only 124.6 million returns, down by 12.2 percent.
New York state is expecting to receive 1.3 million returns in the next few days, said James Gazzale, a spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance. “We’re staffed in our call center and we’re answering calls,” he said. “The wait to speak to our representatives is about a minute.
Gazzale said the state has as of two weeks ago had already processed about six million returns, and sent out $6 billion in refunds. The average refund in the Capital Region was $885, he said.
For procrastinators, the Department of Taxation and Finance has a software program on its website, www.tax.ny.gov, that lets taxpayers who earned less than $69,000 in 2019 to file both their federal and state tax returns for free, avoiding preparation fees. There are also tutorial videos available to help taxpayers prepare their tax returns.
The Internal Revenue Service also has a free filing system for those earning $69,000 or less last year.
The Department of Taxation and Finance said about 95 percent of all tax returns are now prepared and filed electronically. Anyone who still has a refund coming will get it faster if they provide bank routing information to receive their refund by direct deposit.
For anyone looking for an extension, they can automatically get one until Oct. 15, but must submit an estimated payment. “An extension will provide you more time to submit your return, but not more time to pay any tax owned,” state tax officials said in a press release last week.
People with questions on their state returns they want answered by phone can call 518-457-5181 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.