This is something I’ve never said before: Now that Independence Day is behind us, tax day is fast approaching.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Treasury Department postponed the traditional April 15 federal tax filing deadline until July 15. And this time, there’s no wiggle room. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service announced that there would not be another blanket filing delay.
So if you haven’t filed your return yet — or if you’ve filed but haven’t yet paid the taxes you owe for 2019 — the deadline is Wednesday.
About 142 million taxpayers had filed returns as of July 3, according to IRS statistics, but the agency has struggled to process returns because of reduced staffing during the pandemic. (In addition to its usual duties, the agency sent out about 160 million stimulus payments this spring as part of the federal pandemic aid program.) The agency had processed about 131 million returns as of July 3 — 10% fewer than the same time last year.
And some taxpayers are facing long delays in getting the refunds they’re owed, according to a report from Erin Collins, the new national taxpayer advocate, who represents filers.
Some returns were mistakenly flagged by tools aimed at detecting fraud. Some fraud filters are wrong more than half the time, the report said. Once a return is flagged, the IRS often asks filers to mail extra documents — but the agency hasn’t opened or processed all the mailings, delaying the refunds. The report said the delays “notably” affected people who claimed the earned-income tax credit or the additional child tax credit, both of which mostly help low- and moderate-income filers.
While most people file tax returns electronically, people who filed on paper and are expecting refunds “may be in for a long wait,” the report said. As of May 16, the agency had an estimated backlog of 4.7 million paper returns.
Working through the paper returns is a “high priority” for the IRS, its commissioner, Charles Rettig, recently told the Senate Finance Committee. The agency is reducing the backlog by about 1 million a week.
If you’ve already filed a paper return, the IRS refund website says, it will be processed in the order it was received. Its advice? Sit tight.
“Do not file a second tax return or contact the IRS about the status of your return,” the agency said.
A bit of good news: Because the postponed filing date is “disaster-related,” the IRS must pay interest on your refund, calculated from April 15 roughly until it is paid out — as long as you file your 2019 return by July 15, an agency spokesman said. Depending on the timing of the refund, the interest is 3% to 5%, compounded daily. Interest payments may come in a separate installment.
Also, you have until Wednesday to take steps that may help reduce your taxable income, said Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and tax expert with TurboTax. You can make contributions to an individual retirement account, which may be tax deductible depending on your income, or to a health savings account, if your health plan qualifies.
If, despite the extended deadline, you still aren’t prepared to file your federal return, you can get an automatic extension to file until Oct. 15 by submitting IRS Form 4868. You can do it at no charge, using the IRS Free File website.
But be warned: An extension to file is not an extension to pay. If you owe money, you still need to calculate what you expect to owe and pay it by Wednesday or face penalties and interest on the unpaid amount.
If you can’t pay what you owe, the IRS may give you a little break: You can pay what you can and request an installment plan for the rest, although you’ll still have to pay penalties — at half the usual rate — and interest.
People who are self-employed or who didn’t have enough tax withheld from their paychecks may also need to make estimated tax payments by Wednesday. The quarterly deadlines in April and June were also postponed, but that time is now up.
It may also be wise to make estimated tax payments if you received unemployment benefits this year and didn’t elect to have taxes withheld, said Susan Allen, senior manager for tax policy and advocacy at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Many people don’t know that the benefits are taxable and could end up with a surprise bill at tax time next year.