O’Connor: Shhhhh! Tax Day is Monday; don’t tell anyone
The deadline for filing your tax returns isn’t today, April 15, but you didn’t hear it from your tax preparer.
Despite the fact that a federal holiday has pushed the official Tax Filing Day back three days to Monday, Metro Detroit tax preparers say they’ve kept that to themselves whenever possible, hoping clients wouldn’t wait until the absolute last minute. That would allow them to close the books on the 2015 tax year before, and not over, the weekend, says Vincent Mattina Jr., CPA and managing partner with Mattina, Kent & Gibbons in Rochester.
“We don’t want to encourage people to start thinking about their taxes on the 15th and bring them in on the 18th for filing,” Mattina says. “We wanted to pretty much be done by April 15.”
Oops. Sorry to spoil that for you, Mattina, Kent & Gibbons.
(Seriously, if any of you readers are thinking of calling your tax preparer to say something along the lines of, “I just found out Tax Day is Monday, so let me take the weekend and dig up a few dozen more receipts, and maybe scrounge around for an extra dependent or two,” just leave my name out of it, OK?)
At the accounting firm of Fenner, Melstrom & Dooling in Birmingham, partner Brian Hunter says the team always aims to come in on Tax Day with nothing to do, and sincerely wants to stretch that to three days this year.
“We’ve been keeping a low profile on the later filing date,” Hunter says. “No one wants to be here on the filing date, so we truly preach to our people that they should come in to work with nothing to do on the filing date. If you do your job in November and December, and tax-planning throughout the year, at this time of the year it’s just putting numbers on a piece of paper.”
So how will the staff spend filing day? Well, probably checking the weather.
“We always have an end-of-tax-season party, which starts on the afternoon of the filing date,” Hunter says. “Everybody’s looking at the weather because they want to be out on the restaurant patio.”
Tax preparers at Detroit’s Accounting Aid Society still had a few Monday appointments open as of Thursday, said Marshall Hunt, director of tax policy and advocacy, who agrees that it’s no crime if some taxpayers didn’t get the message about Monday’s later deadline. “If people get to it by the 15th, that’s all the better,” Hunt says.
The society has been running a tax prep site at Detroit City Hall, an important service because this is the first year that city income taxes are being processed by the state of Michigan. That means for the first time Detroiters and suburban residents who work in the city can file electronically, not on paper.
Detroit city taxes are the one place where Monday’s April 18 filing date doesn’t give taxpayers extra time to file. Until this year, Detroit maintained April 30 as the filing deadline for city income tax, for reasons lost to the mists of history but probably owing to sense that, after wrangling their state and federal forms, city taxpayers needed a two-week breather.
A slew of late city returns could pile in at the end of the month but so far, the earlier city deadline hasn’t caused confusion, says Carol O’Cleireacain, deputy mayor for economic policy, planning & strategy. Partly that’s because once taxpayers filing online delve into their state returns the city return is included. “I don’t think that’s been a problem,” O’Cleireacain says. “We’ve had a large amount of e-filings.”
If you are dead set on temporarily delaying your accountant’s margarita between now and Monday, be warned that the most any tax professional can do for you is to file an extension, which gives you until Oct. 15 to get your return together. But don’t forget to bring your checkbook, warns Hunt of the Accounting Aid Society.
“It’s an extension to file, but not an extension to pay,” Hunt says. “They should try to estimate the tax due and pay 90 percent of that to avoid a failure-to-pay penalty.”
The reason is that the failure to file penalty is 10 times worse than coming up short — 5 percent of the tax due plus interest for each month you’re late, compared with the failure to pay penalty of just 0.5 percent per month plus interest. File more than 60 days late and the penalty goes up to the smaller of $205 or 100 percent of the tax due.
Getting an extension, however, can be free.
“If for whatever reason you can’t get it together by Monday, don’t pay to file an extension, do it for free right from IRS.gov,” says IRS spokesman Luis D. Garcia. “Taxpayers can e-file their extension form for free using Free File. Just look for Free Extensions for Anyone.”
If you want to feel even worse about not having your tax act together, Garcia notes that, as of April 10, nearly 111 million of your fellow tax-paying citizens managed to file early, with the average refund totaling $2,776.
Speaking of feeling bad, Vincent Mattina, the partner at Mattina, Kent & Gibbons in Rochester, says he feels no sympathy for last-minute filers since taxpayers already got a break, thanks to 2016 being a leap year.
Says Mattina: “They already had an extra day with Feb. 29.”