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Last-minute tax filers need to be on lookout for mistakes

IRS: About 25 percent of the country's expected personal federal tax filings still hadn't come in at the end of last week

Posted: Monday, April 12, 2004

Shopping for a tax preparer isn't like shopping for Christmas presents.

Tax preparers won't be welcoming people's business on the eve of the Thursday midnight filing deadline.

"When people rush, they make mistakes," said John Logan, a certified public accountant. His business, Logan Tax Practice, has taken clients since March 15, but they've been filing extensions.

"I hate those people," Stephanie Allison, a certified public accountant who prepares taxes out of her Mendenhall Valley home, said with laughter in her voice. She stopped taking on new clients last week, and said she has since talked to at least one person who probably wanted her to do her taxes.

Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman Judy Monahan in Seattle said about 25 percent of the 131 million personal federal tax filings expected this year still hadn't come in at the end of last week. The percentages are expected to work out about the same for Alaska, she added.

She believes most of the people who wait until the end have a good reason. People who owe money may wait as long as they can before sending it in, she said.

Allison agreed. But she said she also sees procrastinators who may not have left themselves enough time to do their taxes correctly.

"I had a lady call (Wednesday), trying to help her daughter," she said. "Somehow her W-2 form had been misplaced."

Because the woman who couldn't find her earnings statement was with the military, and the process to get a new one wouldn't be swift enough to meet the deadline, Allison advised an extension.

People do make sloppy mistakes on their tax forms, Monahan said. The IRS gets people who forget to sign their forms. The mistake is so common that it served as a punchline for an episode of "The Honeymooners" a half-century ago.

Robyn Gee, a certified public accountant with Brown and Associates, said people also can leave out less obvious things.

"This year in particular with President Bush's new tax laws, I am finding people making mistakes on reporting their advanced child tax credit, otherwise called the tax rebate check," she said.

According to the www.irs.gov Web Site, people claiming the tax credit will need to subtract last year's advance payment when figuring it.

People who rush often miss items such as charitable contributions and unreimbursed employee expenses that could be tax deductible, Gee said.

"I also find that when people just throw stuff together, they miss key items such as stock basis and purchase dates that affect capital gains and losses."

Logan said there are changes this tax year in the way dividends and capital gains are handled. For some people who have done their own taxes in the past, the increased difficulty in figuring taxes this year "might have reached critical mass," driving them to seek professional help.

The filing deadline is not the time to start, he said, adding that he encourages people to think about their taxes all year.

"We allocate the same amount of time to everyone's taxes," he said, noting the reasons for the extensions.

Monahan pointed out that the automatic extension is in the filing and not in the obligation for payment. IRS instructions make it clear that people who owe money are required to estimate their obligation and pay at least that much by the end of Thursday.

Another mistake that people sometimes miss is the nature of the deadline, she said. Dropping tax forms in a mailbox Thursday may not be enough, she said. People at the IRS do look at the postmark.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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