Tax services swamped as deadline looms

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Nothing is certain in life, but death and taxes, as the old adage goes.

However, as all taxpayers know, there is another certainty in life and that is April 15, the day of reckoning for American taxpayers.

Each year during this week, people flock to tax preparation centers across the country to either get advice, e-file their returns or even more urgent, have their returns prepared.

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Locally, the nationally known H & R Block is no different.

The staff there have been working all week getting final returns completed, creating new accounts and keeping the e-file system busy.

Lori Milton, who has worked at the local office for over 15 years with her father, Herman Neiswender, who owns the franchise, said it will be a busy time for the next few days.

&uot;There will be many people coming in for preparing their returns at the last minute,&uot; she said.

&uot;It’s normal for us.&uot;

She said one of their popular features is the e-file system, and also the people who want to get their refund quickly, hence the name Rapid Refund.

However, she said people who need some extra time shouldn’t panice, because the Internal Revenue Services does offer an extension.

She said these are possible, but she offers a caveat.

&uot;People hear the word extension and get it mixed up,&uot; she said.

&uot;Many don’t realize that they can extend the time they have to file, but if they owe money, they still have to pay by April 15.&uot;

So if the big day is set so in stone for April 15, why do so many people wait for the last possible day?

Milton has a theory.

&uot;Many just don’t want to think about it until they have to and many wait because they know they have to pay,&uot; she said.

Each year, Montgomery media makes a big deal about the Wynton Blount Boulevard branch of the U.S. Postal Service remaining open until midnight.

Milton cautions those in the area to remember that the Greenville Post Office closes at 4:30 p.m. regardless of the date.

She also said people shouldn’t expect to see her office remain open any later than normal.

&uot;We’ll be busy finishing up the returns we have and we’ll do some last minute e-filing, but that will be about it,&uot; she said.

&uot;With the post office closed here, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to try to be here any later.&uot;

So the returns are complete, and you owe the money, but you can’t pay.

Are you in deep trouble?

Not really, Milton said.

&uot;The IRS is pretty good about setting up a payment schedule for those people who need it,&uot; she said.

&uot;People should be aware that the state revenue office wants its money immediately regardless.&uot;

Neiswender said the best way to safeguard next year against having to rush around at the last minute is simple.

&uot;Start early next year.&uot;

For last minute help, call Milton and the friendly tax professionals at H & R Block at 382-8670.

They are located at 104 Church St.

It is important to remember that the IRS does offer ways to help people get by the deadline without fuss or muss.

One of the most popular ways is to file an extension.

The IRS offers the following tips:

N File an extension. If the clock runs out, taxpayers can get an automatic four-month extension of time to file, to Aug. 16. An extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay, however. Taxpayers may call 1-888-796-1074, e-file a Form 4868 that is included in most tax preparation software, or send a paper Form 4868 to the IRS.

N Don’t panic if you can’t make immediate payment, just file on time. For those who can’t immediately pay the taxes due, consider some stress-reducing alternatives. A taxpayer can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting their own monthly payment amount and due dates, and getting a reduced late payment penalty rate.

N Double check entries. Taxpayers should review their return for possible math errors and make sure the names and Social Security or other identification numbers for themselves, their spouse and dependents are correct and legible.

N File electronically. About 1 million Alabama taxpayers filed their returns electronically in 2003. Aside from ease of filing, IRS e-file is the fastest and most accurate way to file a tax return.

N Use electronic refund options. One way to speed up an expected refund and reduce the chance of theft is to have the refund amount deposited directly to the taxpayer’s bank account by the IRS.

N Use a free IRS taxpayer assistance program. Tax help is available at six IRS offices in Alabama – Birmingham, Dothan, Florence, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery. N Take advantage of the free IRS assistance.. The IRS offers recorded messages on about 150 tax topics through its TeleTax service at 1-800-829-4477

N Visit the IRS online. Taxpayers accessed the IRS Web site at more than 4.5 billion times in 2003. Anyone with Internet access can download tax forms, instructions and publications as well as tax law information and answers to frequently asked tax questions.

N Keep tax records organized. Tax preparation time can be significantly reduced for taxpayers who develop a system for organizing their records and receipts. Start with the income, deduction or tax credit items that were on last year’s return.

N Don’t procrastinate. Resist the temptation to put off doing taxes until the last minute. Hurrying to meet the filing deadline may cause a taxpayer to overlook potential sources of tax savings and increases the risk of making an error.