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Last-minute income tax filers still have hope

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

If the only things certain in life are death and taxes, then anyone still holding onto income tax returns are at death's door knocking as time until the deadline winds down.

With just two days until the cutoff for filing Monday at midnight, those who haven't sent their taxes off could be wondering what to do.

The Internal Revenue Service has prepared for the rush of last-minute filers, and Judy Monahan, the area IRS spokesperson, said although this may not mean face-to-face assistance from the Soldotna office for the central Kenai Peninsula, people in need will still be able to talk to someone.

She said tax filers can call the IRS toll-free line, 1-800-829-1040, and speak to a live tax adviser today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"Those are special times since we're at the end," Monahan said from her Seattle office.

She said the IRS anticipates 130 million returns when the filing season is done, and she projected 327,500 federal individual returns to be filed from Alaska. But Monahan said a quarter of that number is filing at the last minute.

"Twenty-five percent of the estimated total will come in in the last seven days," she said.

Monahan said the IRS promotes electronic filing (e-filing) -- filing either over the Internet or the phone. She said the process significantly cuts into the time it takes to receive a refund and minimizes the paperwork for both the filer and the IRS.

"In April, there is more paper coming in," she said. "So we encourage e-filing."

E-filing a return and having a refund direct-deposited into a checking or savings account can take up to 10 days, she said.

Those wanting to e-file can find a list of 26 online tax preparation companies on the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov/elec_svs/partners.html. Charges typically range from around $7 to $49, and under some circumstances are even free.

Taxpayers who qualify to fill out form 1040EZ are able to file by phone. But those who qualify are selected by the IRS and usually will have received an instruction manual to help with the process.

Many people choose to go to accountants and professional tax preparers who, for a fee, are able to handle returns either via the mail or online.

Alea Otto said the Kenai branch of H & R Block has two preparers who will be working with filers by appointment only today and up to the end of business on Monday.

"We're open 9 to 6, but we'll take consideration for people who can't get off work," she said.

Otto said during the end of the tax season, customers are often anxious to have their returns done as quickly as possible. But she said H & R Block schedules one-hour blocks for each return, although different cases can vary in the time it takes to complete a return.

"People are wanting to get in ASAP and wanting to get their taxes done ASAP, and that's not necessarily feasible," Otto said. "Each individual has different things that will affect their return."

Christina Griffith operates GLC Accounting Services from her home in Nikiski. She has done tax returns since 1994 and said by this time some people have thrown in the towel. But she implied that there is still hope.

"Most people give up if they haven't got they're act together by now," Griffith said. "The last few days are kind of worse. It's like people are ready for people to tell them, 'no I can't help you.' If it's not earth shattering, I can help them."

For those who don't use the electronic method to send off their taxes, area post offices become their final destination. Because most postal stations keep almost banker's hours, the midnight deadline for filing "on time" is cut by seven hours.

Kasilof Postmaster Carol Joyce said she used to double back at midnight to postmark any tax returns that were left after the 5 p.m. closing time. But she said she won't this year.

"Basically, we haven't seen the need for that midnight collection," she said. "Last year when I did the late run, there was nothing there which led me to believe either people were getting their (taxes) in earlier or going to a larger office in town."

Joyce said she tries to ease any anxiety late filers may have when they come to her branch.

"Sometimes I bring in Tension Tamer Tea to serve on tax day," she said.

Griffith and Joseph Rybak, a certified professional tax adviser, offered tips to help expedite completing tax returns with a preparer.

"One thing people need to understand about an extension is that the extension is for time to file, not to pay," Rybak said. "They need to have an educated guess as to how much they would need to pay and send it. Some people at this stage know, but there are some reasons that they can't file until later."

Taxpayers can file for an extension using form 4868 and can request a form from the IRS Web site (www.irs.gov) or from the toll-free number 1-888-796-1074.

Griffith said stock owners should be prepared with purchase and sell records.

"If you're selling stock, have your purchase information available," Griffith said. "A lot of times your year-end statement will show when you sold your stock and for how much. You need to have the purchase date and price to show if you have a gain or loss and whether it is short term or long term."

Rybak said taxpayers have until Monday to make retirement investments.

"They still have a chance to put in an IRA," he said. "If they're going to do it for year 2001, it needs to be done by April 15."



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