Teresa McUsic

Help still available for taxpayers to meet Wednesday filing deadline

Help is available online, from guide books and in person as taxpayers work to meet Wednesday’s deadline for filing income tax returns.
Help is available online, from guide books and in person as taxpayers work to meet Wednesday’s deadline for filing income tax returns. AP

Some 90 million Americans have already filed their federal taxes this year, meaning around 30 million will still be crunching numbers in the next few days to meet the deadline Wednesday.

Tick, tick, tick.

The Internal Revenue Service warned this week of possible long lines at its Taxpayer Assistance Centers, like the one in downtown Fort Worth, and long waits on its hotline.

The agency recommends that taxpayers use its website, www.irs.gov, for everything from getting a tax transcript to paying taxes from your savings or checking account.

Most tax questions can be answered through the site’s interactive tax assistant, while the status of your refund can be checked through an online tool, the agency said.

Tax preparation forms and software, as well as applications for payment plans, are also available at the site, which has had a record 247 million hits this year, up 11 percent from last year.

“If taxpayers can find answers quickly online, it is a win for both the taxpayer and the agency,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We don’t want anyone waiting needlessly when there are other resources at their fingertips.”

Dan Murphy, co-coordinator of the local AARP Tax-Aide Program, said its 35 sites in area libraries and senior centers will continue operating until the deadline, offering free tax filing to the public regardless of age or income.

“We’ll be working until the 15th,” he said. “Our only limiting factor is the hours of the library that night.”

While walk-ins are welcome, appointments are recommended. To find a location, call 211.

Likewise, the 14 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites run by the United Way of Fort Worth will stay open through Wednesday night, with two sites open year-round, said Sue Matkin, vice president of community development with United Way.

“After the tax season, you can make an appointment and we can do up to three past years,” she said. “But a lot that tend to file at the very end tend to owe, so they should try to make the deadline.”

VITA sites are for senior citizens and those with incomes of $53,000 or less, disabilities or limited English. Preparers offer the free tax help in Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as English. For a location, call 211 or go to www.FreeTaxDFW.com.

Other free tax services include:

Free File. The IRS also provides free tax software and e-filing through its Free File program for those with household incomes of $60,000 or less. Software comes from commercial preparers including TurboTax and H&R Block. Spanish versions are available. More at www.irs.gov/freefile.

TaxAct. Offers free online tax software to all incomes for all tax forms at www.TaxAct.com. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, software provider also offers free e-filing and tax help by email.

Murphy reminds people that only those who owe need to file by Wednesday.

“Around 75 percent of filers get a refund,” he said. “If you do file late and have a refund, the IRS will pay you interest. But then next year you’ll get a Form 1099 and have to declare it as taxable interest.”

Clay Sanford, IRS spokesman in Dallas, said it’s possible to get interest on a refund, but not in the first 45 days after the due date or the date you file.

“If the refund is not made within this 45-day period, interest will be paid from the due date of the return or from the date you filed, whichever is later,” he said. Rates are adjusted quarterly.

Sanford recommends that filers double-check that the names and Social Security numbers on their tax returns match the ones on their Social Security cards. Also check that you have the correct bank account routing numbers.

“Also, the tax return cannot be processed without a signature,” he said. “An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check.”

The IRS encourages electronic filing, since paper filers are around 20 times more likely to make a mistake, he said.

Sanford also said to watch out for IRS phone scammers, who are out in force.

“The IRS will not call to demand immediate payment, nor about taxes owed, without first having mailed you a bill,” he said. “If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.”

One of the few ways to shave money off your tax bill this late is to contribute to an individual retirement account and deduct your contribution. Filers have until Wednesday to contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA ($6,500 if you are over 50).

Anyone can file for an automatic six-month extension, but the paperwork still has to be into the IRS by Wednesday. Use Form 4686.

Just remember that you pay interest on any taxes not paid by the deadline.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net