Tax man cometh back Deadline: Midnight means the end of Uncle Sam's generous extension for those taxpayers who didn't file in April with the rest of us.

August 15, 1996|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

Good morning, tax procrastinators!

Today is the deadline for all of you out there who were granted an extension to file your 1995 federal income-tax return. Your four months are up at midnight.

Most of the rest of us did our duty back on April 15. Most of us got refunds and have spent them already. Maybe some of us are having second thoughts about the wisdom of our purchases and are inclined to be impatient with slackers.

A brand new fiscal year approaches. Now it's your turn to settle up with Uncle Sam, to put things right with your government, which loves you.

Of course, this is not meant for those of you who have filed for and received a second extension, giving you another two months to get done what should've been done four months ago. You've gotten off again, it seems. But don't worry: we'll be back to remind you in October. There will be no further extensions.

To be fair, not everybody who requests an income-tax filing extension is a procrastinator. There are legitimate excuses. Unexpected things do happen: accounting firms burn down; CPAs get stomped in the streets by rogue elephants; pets have even been known to eat tax returns.

And to continue in this generous vein, most people who requested extensions -- about 3 percent of the 3 million taxpayers in our bailiwick of the IRS, which covers Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia -- got their returns in before the second deadline.

And right smartly, too.

Besides, we're talking here about extensions to delay filing your return. There are no extensions to delay paying. Everybody who owes has to ante up by April 15. If you don't file a return, you have to estimate how much you owe and send it in.

"A lot of people think a filing extension is an extension of the time you have to pay," said Eric Barshop, an independent CPA. "A lot of people get into trouble for that."

For those people, fines, and other sanctions await. The IRS has formulated some procedures so exquisitely unpleasant they ,X would have been envied by Torquemada.

Not many people request the four-months tax filing extensions; only about 122,000 did this year in our district. But they appeal to a dedicated minority.

Michael A. Arthur, a Towson accountant, does returns for about 85 citizens. Of those, nearly 10 percent each year request extensions, and about half of those do it every year. The first extension is always granted, the second one nearly always; there are no thirds.

Arthur, a man with some years in the tax business, puts last-minute filers into two categories. You might call them the lions and the rabbits, though he doesn't.

"Some of them, in my opinion, have an arrogance. It's almost kind of an 'I'm-not-giving-the- government-a-penny-before-I- have-to' kind of attitude," he said. "The other group is fearful of the IRS. They want to have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed before they file. That's the reason they wait so long."

It is Arthur's opinion that there are many, many more rabbits than there are lions. And even many of the lions with the loudest roar turn out to be quite rabbit-like when the IRS snarls in their direction.

The IRS, he says, has many ways to get your attention. He recalls the time an IRS man went out and banged on the front door of a tax delinquent and demanded he pay.

Most people just get letters.

There is some conflicting opinion about the wisdom of applying for a filing extension. Some people believe that if you do you will never be audited. Why? Because the IRS will receive your return too late to give it careful attention.

Others think just the opposite, that the mere request is like raising a red flag.

Most accountants and IRS officials contacted think it doesn't matter one way or the other.

Some people are so afraid of the IRS (rabbits), said Jane Brewer, of KAWG & F, P.A.., they would never dream of calling attention to themselves by asking for an extension, no matter how badly they might need one.

"They think if they file their return as part of the masses the return somehow gets swallowed up in a vast hole filled with millions of others, that it won't be looked at very carefully, if at all," she said. "I don't know how they think they get their refunds."

Brewer's firm has about 50 of its clients currently on extension. Of those, about 15 have filed for a second extension. She figures only about five of her clients could be classified as "true, honest-to-God procrastinators."

How so?

"We haven't received one piece of information from them to do their return. But I know we will be doing their return because they have been doing this every year, and every year we go through the same thing."

All the genuine tax procrastinators we sought to interview for this article have put off getting back to us.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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