EDITORIAL: More time

Tax deadlines moved back, but obligation not removed

Ordinarily, April 15 is a dreaded day for many Americans; it’s the annual deadline for filing tax returns and paying any taxes that are due.

This year filers got a reprieve. We must remember, that the deadline was only extended; filing and paying obligations have only been deferred, not eliminated. So people still need to prepare their tax returns and budget for any taxes they might have to pay.

And some people are best advised to file as soon as possible, if they wish to receive a federal stimulus check.

The Trump administration moved the filing deadline back to July 15. Immediately following the announcement, the IRS said that the filing deadline hadn’t changed, people just had more time to pay their taxes. The White House later clarified the matter, saying filing had been pushed back as well.

It was the right call. Although growing numbers of taxpayers are buying tax preparation software or using online services, the IRS reports that some 54% of filers — almost 80 million people — pay someone else to prepare their taxes. Current restrictions on travel and public interactions make it hard if not impossible for most of those taxpayers to meet with their tax preparation professionals.

Also, everything attached to the April 15 deadline has been moved to July as well. The automatic sixmonth extension offered to those who need extra time to file a final return still applies; instead of being due in October, the deferred returns will now be due in January.

As with normal filing rules, however, the extension applies to the paperwork only. People who expect to pay taxes must estimate calculate what they expect to pay, using IRS Form 4868.

However, the IRS continues to function, and people who don’t need the extra time to file can still file now. In fact, many people would be well advised to do so.

Anyone hoping to receive one of the government stimulus checks allocated to help Americans deal with the financial burdens caused by coronavirus orders and policies must have a completed tax return for one of the past two years on record. Thus, someone who didn’t file a return last year must file now in order to receive a stimulus check from the IRS; a Form 4868 request for extension will not qualify for any stimulus payment — it must be a 1040 or other completed return.

Federal officials are showing eagerness to bring our country back to some semblance of normalcy. To do that, however, we must have clear signs that the coronavirus pandemic is under control and starting to abate, and we’re not there yet. Hundreds of new cases continue to be reported every day, and while everyone hopes the country is running again by July, it remains possible that the tax deadline might have to be pushed back again.

Let’s hope not; that would mean we’re still under the current restrictions, and there’s no telling how much damage a prolonged shutdown could do to our national economy.

So let us remember that our obligations to the taxman still exist; while the extended deadline is welcome and needed for many, it might be best for those who can file on time to do so, and not have to worry about it later.