Help available as tax deadline nears

The April 15 federal income tax deadline was just a week away Monday as Lowell residents Diane and Allen Ayers completed the filing of their 2012 return at the AARP free Tax-Aide Program at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Franklin Street.

“We used to have this done in February, but we went to Florida in January this year and just came back to file our taxes,” Diane said. “These people made it very convenient, even though we’re filing later than usual.”

Gene and Mary Hesson of Whipple were also filing their returns through the free AARP Tax-Aide service.

“I just don’t like having to do the taxes, so I wait as long as possible before filing ours,” Mary said.

But she added that the AARP program has made it a lot easier since the couple started using the service a few years ago.

“I’ve paid professional preparers at least $100 to file my returns in the past,” Mary said. “Here the people are very thorough and talk one-on-one with you about your taxes and it’s free. I like this so much better that I’d be willing to pay them for it.”

Art Jones, one of the volunteers for the AARP Tax-Aide Program, said so far this year the Knights of Columbus site has filed 491 federal and 469 state tax returns which includes both Ohio and West Virginia forms.

“Last year we did a total of 560 federal returns,” he said.

The AARP service is available to anyone, regardless of age, and clients don’t have to be AARP members, Jones noted.

The program will operate for two more days at the Knights of Columbus site-from 9:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday, and again on Monday-tax day.

“If people are not quite ready to file their taxes by the deadline, we can at least help them get started on filing for an extension-even if they can’t pay a thing by the deadline, they need to get something filed,” said AARP volunteer Bob Bumgarner.

Jennifer Jenkins, IRS spokeswoman for Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, agreed.

“If they’re not able to file a completed return by April 15, they should file a Form 4868 for an extension before the regular deadline expires,” she said, noting that the document is available in paper form or online at IRS.gov.

Whether filing an on-time return or for an extension, Jenkins advised not to wait until the absolute last minute to mail or file online.

“People filing on the 15th should check with their local post office to be sure the envelope will be postmarked before midnight that day, or they will be considered past the deadline,” she said.

Jenkins suggested those who have not yet filed their 2012 returns should try to set aside some time this weekend to work on getting the returns done-but accurately.

“We don’t want them to rush because they could make mistakes,” she said. “If they’re filing a paper return on the weekend and something goes wrong, they will still have Monday to complete it.”

Eliminating mistakes is one reason the IRS recommends e-filing tax returns, Jenkins said, noting that tax software is designed to catch and correct many mistakes like erroneous math or misspellings.

She said the main thing for people to remember is to file on time or file for an extension. Jenkins noted there are some exceptions to filing by the April 15 deadline, including deployed military personnel, or their family members if the soldier is stationed within a combat zone.

Every year between 25 and 30 percent of individual returns are filed within the last two weeks of the federal tax deadline, she said.

“In Ohio we’re estimating we’ll get about 5.5 million returns, and 1.6 million of those will have been filed in the last two weeks,” Jenkins said. “It’s almost human nature to procrastinate, but most people are due a refund, and not filing on time makes it that much longer to receive the money they’re due.”

She admitted that those who owe money to the IRS have little incentive to pay their taxes early, except that not filing on time will cost them more in the end.

Failure to file can result in a penalty of at least 5 percent per month, based on the amount of tax that has not been paid. The penalty can increase to 25 percent of the unpaid amount if collection activity becomes necessary.

Two other AARP Tax-Aide sites will also be open for service for at least another day between now and April 15.

The Barlow Library site at 45 White Oak Professional Center, Vincent, will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday; and the Lyman-Pomeroy Beverly Library, 300 McIntosh St., Beverly, will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.

Bumgarner said it just worked out that the Knights of Columbus site would be operating on tax day this year.

“But people should be here before 3 p.m. if they’re coming on the 15th,” he said. “Everyone should bring their Social Security Card and a photo ID, and a copy of their last year’s tax return, if they have it.”