CHICAGO -- The Internal Revenue Service has announced a change in America's calendar: It is telling millions of taxpayers they can ignore April 15.
Without so much as filing a form, any taxpayer who is due a refund or who has paid 100 percent of his or her income taxes through withholding or estimated tax payments can wait until Oct. 15 to file a return. Anyone who has paid at least 90 percent of the taxes due can wait until Aug. 15; interest will be charged on the remainder, but no penalty will be assessed.
The IRS said the move, which does not apply to businesses, is designed to reduce the crush of paper with which it deals. But it also gives the government the chance to collect additional interest on procrastinators' refunds. Last year, the IRS refunded $94 billion to 82 million taxpayers, or three-quarters of all filers, according to agency statistics.
"We're trying to reduce the burden and the time spent filing returns," said Steve Mongelluzzo, an IRS spokesman.
Until now, individuals could receive an extension by filing one of two forms, and last year 6 1/2 million filers -- whether unable, unwilling or unready to meet the deadline -- did so, many of them joining the April 15 parade to the post office.
But now, "it will be an automatic extension. It will replace Forms 4868 and 2688," said Mongelluzzo. Announcement of the change, which had been discussed in the agency and the tax-preparation industry for some time, was delayed until yesterday so taxpayers wouldn't think it applied to Aug. 15, 1991, he said.
And it might change more than the length of lines at IRS offices and mailboxes in mid-April.
"What impact this will have on the tax preparation firms, we don't know," said Judy Keisling, assistant vice president and director of training for H&R Block, which prepared nearly 12.4 million tax returns for Americans this year.
"People that file early will continue to file early," she said. "People who file later and historically have a refund will probably procrastinate. We don't know how many procrastinators are out there."
"I imagine there will still be a flurry of activity around April 15 provided people don't know whether they've paid the 90 percent," said Jeanne Albright, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University. "There will then be a period somewhat of relief that they don't have to be at the post office."
The IRS expects that many people still will file early to get their refunds early. Others, of course, may decide to use their extra six months to redo their math or check their records in search of more deductions.
No figures are available on the number of people owed a refund who delay filing their returns until April 15, said Bill Rivkin, another IRS spokesman.
But he said that about one-third of the tax returns filed in the U.S. are received in the two weeks before April 15, as taxpayers start responding to deadline pressure.
The key for the IRS, Rivkin and Mongelluzzo said, was to reduce the amount of paper the service handles each year by doing away with those millions of forms requesting extensions, which by law are automatically granted.
And, for people who like busywork, there will be a new filing opportunity. People whose withholding falls short of 90 percent but who still want to wait until August to file a return will be able to mail in a check to bring their payments to that level -- once the IRS develops a coupon to go with it.