D.C. holiday gives Md. taxpayers a break, too

Procrastinators take advantage of extra three days to file returns

  • Jon Frazier, 44, rode his bike to the U.S. Post Office on Fayette Street to pay his taxes.
Jon Frazier, 44, rode his bike to the U.S. Post Office on Fayette… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
April 18, 2011|By Eileen Ambrose and Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

Amid the steady stream of drivers pulling into the downtown U.S. post office to mail their tax returns, Jon Frazier slowly pedaled up on his Schwinn mountain bike.

Frazier, 44, of Baltimore, unzipped his backpack, grabbed a couple of envelopes and placed them in a mailbox. So why did he wait until the last possible day to file?

"Because I owe money and didn't want to pay before I have to," a grinning Frazier said before pedaling back to his job in Fells Point.

Frazier and millions of others were able to postpone the pain of paying even longer this year because the usual April 15 tax deadline was extended three days, thanks to Emancipation Day. Washington celebrated the day that marks the end of slavery in the District of Columbia on Friday, pushing the deadlines for filing federal and Maryland tax returns to Monday. The extra days gave filers more time to procrastinate, but prolonged the tax season for busy accountants.

Many Baltimore taxpayers took advantage of the extra time. A quickly moving line of filers dropped off returns at the main post office on East Fayette Street, which was scheduled to remain open until midnight.

That location processed 1.1 million pieces of mail on tax day last year, a spokeswoman said. Spokeswoman Yvette Singh said officials expected "the same or a little less" this year.

The volume of returns in the mail has declined steadily as more taxpayers file electronically each year. The Internal Revenue Service reported Monday that a record number of nearly 101 million returns had been filed electronically so far this season, up 8.8 percent from last year.

Early Monday afternoon, more than three dozen filers were waiting for help at the Internal Revenue Service's Baltimore Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Arnold James delayed getting his taxes done, he said, because impaired vision made it difficult for him to leave his house to seek assistance.

To prepare for his trip to the IRS office Monday, the 71-year-old West Baltimore man gathered his financial paperwork and receipts and asked a friend for help sorting them into envelopes. He then labeled the envelope with large letters and numbers, so he could read them later.

"I'd get somebody to tell me how much it is and I'd write it in black marker," James said.

D.L. Steedley, a retired bus driver from Northeast Baltimore, also sought out IRS help on Monday. She filed electronically weeks ago, but visited the IRS to set up a payment plan so she could pay her tax bill over time.

The 72-year-old wasn't happy that she owed taxes. She wanted to make sure it didn't happen again.

Accounting and tax preparation firms saw their share of procrastinators, too.

"When they realized they didn't have to panic on Friday, they decided the panic could wait until Monday," said Anna Fink, director of accounting and financial services at Ellis & Associates CPAs in Baltimore.

Many filers called Jackson Hewitt week to get their taxes done by Friday — and then postponed their visit when they learned the deadline was Monday.

"It was a good thing for clients. It gave them the extra time to get their information together," said Cherby Worthington, director of operations for the 29 Jackson Hewitt offices in the area.

Typically, those who wait until the last minute have no more than a small refund due them, or they owe Uncle Sam money, Worthington says. And the most frequent question late-filers asked was how to get a payment plan from the IRS or state of Maryland, she said.

Even with the extra days to file, clients at Fink's firm were seeking extensions at double the rate than normal. With an extension, returns won't have to be filed until mid-October, although filers still had to pay any taxes due by Monday.

More people sought additional time because changes in the law late last year meant certain tax forms came out later than usual, Fink said.

But taxpayers also are seeking extensions because of the weak economy, Fink added.

"We are seeing a lot of reticence," she said. "They think they might owe and don't have the money."

Taxpayers might have appreciated the three extra days; accountants not so much.

"Accountants hated it. It meant one extra weekend of work," said Andy Bareham, tax manager of the accounting firm KatzAbosch in Timonium.

Still, the extra time gave filers and accountants more time to tie up loose ends, Bareham said, so the last day of filing was less hectic than usual. His firm held a party Monday afternoon to celebrate the end of the season.

Fink said there was confusion about the deadline change for a holiday that many people haven't heard of.

"Why hasn't this affected us before?" she asked.

Emancipation Day was first celebrated in 1866 and observed until the early 1900s. The District revived it over the past decade and made it an official holiday in Washington in 2005.




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