The government has granted everyone an extra three months to file — and pay — their 2019 federal income taxes because of the coronavirus turmoil. Whew! It helps to have wiggle room in uncertain times.
But just because you have more time, should you take it?
If you’re owed a significant tax refund, for instance, get your return completed and filed quickly so you can get your money. The Internal Revenue Service said the average refund as of March 20 was about $2,900.
“If you’re due a refund, you might as well file as quickly as you can,” said Cindy Hockenberry, director of tax research and government relations with the National Association of Tax Professionals, a trade group.
You should also consider whether you expect to qualify for a federal stimulus check. In response to the economic hit from the coronavirus, Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package that will send payments in the coming weeks to most Americans, based on their income.
People with income up to $75,000 qualify for $1,200. Married couples filing jointly, with income up to $150,000, will get $2,400. (People with higher incomes get less, or may get nothing.) Parents also get $500 for each child 16 or younger.
The government is basing the checks on information from 2019 tax returns or, if you haven’t filed yet, on your 2018 return, Hockenberry said. The year the IRS uses could affect the size of your payment, if your circumstances changed from one year to the next.
If you haven’t filed your 2019 return yet, it may make sense to do a quick calculation to see which year’s return (2019 or 2018) will yield the larger payment, said Susan Allen, senior manager for tax policy and advocacy at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Various calculators are available online.
Another stimulus-related twist: Some people who don’t usually file tax returns, like those with low incomes, will need to file a “simple” return with basic information to receive the stimulus payment, the government has said.
But Social Security recipients who aren’t typically required to file won’t need to file any return, the Treasury Department said in a statement late Wednesday. Rather, they will have payments automatically deposited into their bank accounts or mailed to them, “just as they would normally receive their benefits,” the department said.
People who are “unbanked” and lack traditional bank accounts can have checks mailed to them, an IRS spokesman said on March 3. It’s possible “another option” may become available, he said, but right now checks are the “default” payment method.
You can check the IRS coronavirus website for updates.
The three-month extension means that if you owe money for 2019, you can file your return when you’re ready, then wait until July 15 to pay your taxes. If you’re worried about your job security and believe you won’t have money to pay even with a three-month delay, you can request a payment plan that would allow you to pay off the balance over time.
If, however, you feel financially secure and have the funds to pay your tax bill, it’s your call when to pay. You could file your return and pay now if you’re ready, or schedule a payment anytime before July 15.
The delayed July 15 filing time also applies to most other tax deadlines, including contributions to individual retirement accounts, Roth IRAs and health savings accounts.
You don’t need to do anything special to get the extra three months to file your return; it’s automatic.
But if you think you’ll need even more time to file, submit Form 4868 by July 15 to get an extension to file until Oct. 15. (If you expect to owe taxes, however, you’ll still need to estimate what you owe and make a payment by July 15.) Self-employed people who file for a formal extension can also wait until Oct. 15 to make a contribution to a SEP (which is short for simplified employee pension) IRA.
Here are some questions and answers about filing tax returns this year:
Q: I usually get free help filing my return at a volunteer tax center. Can I do that this year?
A: Many sites that use volunteers have closed for now as part of the efforts to thwart the coronavirus. All sites sponsored by the IRS’ Tax Counseling for the Elderly program are shut “for an undetermined period of time,” the agency said. Volunteer sites run by AARP Foundation Tax-Aide are suspended until further notice.
The IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which generally helps people with incomes of less than $56,000 a year as well as those who are disabled or speak limited English, has also closed many locations. But some remain open and may allow people to drop off tax documents for preparation and receive counseling over the phone. To find a site near you and to determine whether it’s open, the IRS offers a locator tool online. Be sure to call first to confirm that the center is accepting returns.
If you earn less than $69,000 a year, you can use the IRS Free File program to file your return at no cost. The website includes options from commercial software programs, but be sure to use the link provided by the IRS to make sure you get the free version. Anyone who doesn’t meet the income requirements can use the IRS’ free “fillable forms,” which enable online preparation with limited guidance.
Q: I’m self-employed. Does the extended July 15 deadline apply to payments for quarterly estimated tax payments?
A: Yes — with a caveat. The payment due April 15 can now be made July 15. But as of last week, the IRS hadn’t extended the June 15 deadline for the second 2020 estimated tax payment. Accountants expect the agency to clarify that issue before the deadline, Hockenberry said.
Q: Have states extended their tax filing deadlines as well?
A: Most, but not all, states have extended their tax filing deadlines to July 15 or later. The Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax policy research group, is tracking the states’ actions on its website.