'The dog ate my W2 . . .'

April 15, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

So what's your excuse?"I had one client who got mad at his previous accountant, so he just didn't file for the next seven years," says Lambert Boyce, an accountant in Towson.

"I've heard about fires, floods, vandalism, papers stolen out of cars -- you hear it all after a while," sighs Mark Lampe, a Lutherville accountant. "I had one woman show up late because one of her kids went fishing -- in the house! -- and reeled in the dog so they had to take him to get the hook out."

"We had one client who was the biggest procrastinator of all time. We always had to bug him and bug him and bug him to file, and I guess we bugged him so much, he wrote us a letter quoting Samuel Johnson's 'Life of Milton'," recalls accountant Herbert Garten of Baltimore. " 'Every man who has ever tTC undertaken to instruct others can tell what slow advances he has been able to make and how much patience it requires to recall vagrant inattention, to stimulate sluggish indifferences and to rectify absurd misapprehension.' "

Phew! What some people will say or do to avoid filing their tax returns by the deadline, midnight tonight.

Like errant schoolchildren who turn up in class claiming that their dogs or baby brothers ate their homework, taxpayers around this time of year are full of excuses -- creative or mundane, honestly come by or totally straining credulity.

There are, of course, the tried if not necessarily true excuses: "My dog got in the files and chewed up the forms," quotes Dominic LaPonzina, spokesman for the Internal Rev -enue Service Baltimore regional center.

"Or the records were stolen," Mr. LaPonzina adds. "There must be a special kind of robber who operates around April 15."

One who bypasses, say, your television set and the silverware to grab your crumpled receipts and barely legible W2 forms.

Mr. LaPonzina says more taxpayers have delayed filing their returns this year because a reduction in the amount of the federal withholding tax last year means that some will get less of a refund or owe more in taxes than in previous years. Of the 2.6 million returns that are generally filed in the Baltimore region, some 800,000 were missing in action in the last week before deadline -- that's 100,000 to 200,000 more than in previous years, he said.

Of course, the longer you wait to file, the more pressure you put on yourself and your math skills: "The percentage of errors increases as the time left before deadline decreases," Mr. LaPonzina says.

Knowing all that, of course, never makes a difference for the procrastinators among us. The task of filing a return can be so odious for them, they don't even have the energy to try for creativity in excuse-making. Many just claim The Missing Box, the all-purpose excuse that can take on any number of variations.

"The one I always hear is, 'My records are all in this one box, and I can't find the box,' " says Steven Chalawsky, an accountant in Towson. "Or there will be a divorce, and the husband will say the wife has all the records, and the wife says the husband has all the records, and the IRS doesn't care who has the records, they just want to see them."

Still, accountants aren't entirely unsympathetic, perhaps because they understand how hard it is for busy people to make that April 15 deadline.

"I never do mine on time," confesses Aaron Bloom, an accountant in Owings Mills. "I just don't have the time."

That's because he, and others in his profession, are too busy doing your taxes to do their own. Many file extensions for themselves, buying them until August or October.

And forget about death as any sort of excuse.

"He had income even though he is deceased," Mr. Lampe says of a client who recently died and on whose behalf he will request an extension for filing his return. "On the other hand, the IRS tends to go easier on people whose returns are filed after they died."

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