Quirk lets late filers delay the inevitable

Procrastinators in Md. can send taxes through April 18


Last-minute tax filer Elizabeth Rosado planned to spend this past weekend preparing her taxes until she learned of a quirk in this year's calendar that gives Maryland residents three extra days to file.

"I was panicking," said Rosado, 50, of Baltimore. "[Now] I'm going to put it off some more."

Marylanders who have yet to crack open IRS booklets or click "submit" on e-file returns have an extra long weekend this year to file state and federal returns. That's because April 15 falls on a Saturday and the next Monday is a state holiday in Massachusetts, where Marylanders' federal returns will be processed for the first time this year. Residents of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia also get until April 18.

Lori Burghaufer, a certified public accountant with Stout, Causey & Horning's Hunt Valley office, said the extra three days to file "extends the agony."

With some, "the more press that goes out" about having extra time, "the longer they will wait," she said.

Aaron Bloom, a CPA in Columbia, said many of his clients were not aware of the extended deadline.

"If you head to the post office on the 15th, people will bang on the door, trying to get in," he predicted. "They'll still believe they're supposed to file their tax returns. In your mind, it's ingrained that you file your return on the 15th."

The IRS estimates that up to 30 percent of the nation's taxpayers file within two weeks of the deadline. And up to 35 percent of Maryland taxpayers file state returns in the last week, said Michael Golden, a spokesman with the state comptroller's office, which switched the state deadline to April 18 to avoid confusion.

With so many folks putting off the task, the extra three days become "an excuse for procrastinators to wait another day," said Joel Slemrod, director of the Office of Tax Policy Research at the University of Michigan.

"For most people, it's not a particularly pleasant experience," said Slemrod, who published a study in 1997 examining the timing of tax filings. "The reasoning is, `Well, there must be a better day than today to do it.' Tomorrow comes, you think the same thing. Before you know it, it's up against the deadline."

Whatever the deadline, it's crunch time for accountants, tax preparers and the Internal Revenue Service, which operates dozens of tax assistance centers throughout the country, including in Baltimore and Annapolis.

"On April 17 and 18, we'll probably max out sometime in midday on how many people we could take," said Lewis L. Kubiet, manager of the IRS tax assistance center in Baltimore, whose office had helped complete 2,136 federal tax returns as of Thursday.

As of March 31, nearly 80 million taxpayers (out of about 133 million) had filed their returns, according to the IRS. And 67 percent of them, or 53.8 million, used e-file, which is becoming more common each year, the IRS said.

Of the 2.6 million individual taxpayers in Maryland, about 904,000 have filed their returns electronically, said Jim Dupree, an IRS spokesman in Baltimore.

"Most people try it; they don't go back," Dupree said.

At the IRS tax assistance center in Baltimore on Friday morning, a few dozen taxpayers sought help with their returns. The agency provides free tax preparation for residents with an annual income of less than $38,000, said Kubiet, the center's manager.

Finetta McIntyre, 84, of Catonsville, a self-described tax procrastinator, stopped by with her daughter-in-law.

"I usually wait until the last day," she said. "This is early for me. What happens to me is time slips by quickly. By the time I know it, the deadline is here."

Juanita Pittman, 42, of Baltimore had a better reason for dragging her feet this year.

"I never wait until the last minute," she explained. "The reason I waited this long is because I know I'm not getting anything back."

But, wait: There are worse last-minute tax offenders.

About 38,800 Marylanders have yet to file their 2002 federal tax returns. They are due refunds averaging $1,220, for a total of $47 million, according to the IRS.

Their deadline is April 17, and once it passes, the money's gone.

"We hold it for three years," said Dupree, the IRS spokesman. "If it's not claimed, it's turned over to the Treasury Department."


Tax Hints

Here's some help before the April 18 deadline.

The Internal Revenue Service tax assistance centers in Baltimore and Annapolis are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Baltimore: 410-962-7969 Annapolis: 410-224-8799

The IRS also provides live telephone service at 1-800-829-1040.

Federal tax forms can be downloaded on the IRS Web site, irs.gov.

The Maryland comptroller's office is offering help on state returns at its taxpayer assistance centers. Extended office hours and locations can be found at http:--individuals. marylandtaxes.com/taxhelp/ localoffices.asp. [Sources: IRS and Maryland comptroller's office]

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