Excuses as certain as taxes

April 15, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD


"I just forgot."

"My job kept me from doing it."

"I was locked up in a Mexican prison."

Those are a sample of the excuses area accountants and tax professionals have heard over the years from people who had put off having their taxes prepared until the last week before the mid-April deadline.

"Everybody has been pretty honest," said Scott Lowery, staff accountant with Allegany Business Consulting.

Lowery said that the man who said he was late because of his Mexican imprisonment came to Allegany Business Consulting about four years ago.


"Sadly, that was a true story," Lowery said.

Most excuses, according to Lowery and others interviewed for this story, have been pretty standard.

"A lot of (late clients), they owe, and a lot of them, they put it off until the last minute," he said. "A lot of them have stock in businesses and they don't get the paperwork until late."

In February, when tax season begins, "99 percent of the filers get refunds. Now, about 5 percent get refunds," Lowery said early last week.

The April 17 deadline this year seemed to bring out more late filers, said Catharine Fairley, tax partner with Draper & McGinley PA, which prepares more than 1,000 returns each year from its offices in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md.

"It's more hectic because I think clients think we have more time," Fairley said.

Kim Richardson, co-owner of The Schiesel Family Inc., which does taxes as Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, said the number of late filers has grown over the years.

And, she said, "Tax preparers and tax owners are the worst ever when it comes to filing late."

"Maybe because we can," Richardson said with a laugh.

"If you don't need your (refund) money, you feel you can just wait and procrastinate," she said.

A major reason people wait until the bitter end to have their taxes prepared is that they "fear that they owe. But if they would have come in right away, they would have been prepared with how much they owe," and could have made arrangements to file their payment by the April 17 deadline, Richardson said.

"About 10 years ago, we had more of a rush during tax season," she said.

Of the last-minute panic associated with the deadline, Fairley said, "I think it's the season. It's just around the end of March, you have school spring break, Easter and before you know it," the filing deadline has arrived.

Waiting for forms

Diane Rowe Caprio, an enrolled agent in Hagerstown who is licensed to practice before the IRS, said that "a big issue this year for clients - clients that have investments with brokerage firms - they receive a (Form) 1099, and a lot of them waited because they thought they were going to get corrected forms."

Although by federal law, stockholders were supposed to get those forms by Jan. 31, Caprio said she saw some paperwork that indicated final corrected forms would not be available until April 2, leaving some taxpayers with only about two weeks to get the proper paperwork together.

"It's good for them to wait (for the form) because if it changes dramatically, they would have to file an amended return," she said.

One trend that Fairley noticed this year was that "refunds are getting larger because of the energy credits," which are new deductions offered this year for making energy-efficient home improvements.

Jim Dupree, an IRS spokesman, said that people are missing out on tax breaks available for making those energy-efficient improvements, telephone excise tax payments and hybrid vehicle purchases. A tax break for buying a hybrid vehicle could amount to nearly $3,000, he said.

Dupree also said educators' out-of-pocket expenses for buying school supplies are underreported.

Those who have filed their returns and have receipts for such purchases or payouts, but didn't claim them, may file amended returns, he said.

Late options

Dupree suggested those who are running late with their returns consider filing them electronically as opposed to preparing their taxes on paper.

"It costs a lot less money than processing paper returns," he said. "It's the ease of use - the fact that it's more accurate, it gives you a confirmation, and it's the fastest way to get a refund."

For those who make less than $52,000 per year, free-file, which can be accessed through the IRS Web site (, may be used to file returns on the Internet by April 17 at midnight, Dupree said. Paper returns must be postmarked be April 17 if the filer is to avoid late charges.

Richardson and others said they don't keep numbers on how many former clients have begun preparing their taxes on the Internet.

Dupree said this year, the IRS has had more than 83.4 million hits on its Web site, a 9 percent increase over last year.

In 2006, half of the returns were filed electronically, he said. This year, more than half of the returns have been filed electronically.

"I do think there are a lot more people who are willing to file themselves," said Judy Howell, a customer service representative with the Hagerstown IRS office

The Herald-Mail Articles