Tax deadline looms for procrastinators

BRADENTON — Manatee County residents who haven’t filed their income tax returns yet are certainly not alone.

The Internal Revenue Service is still waiting on about 38 percent of the 8.7 million income tax returns it expects Floridians to submit this year. As of April 2, the IRS had received 5.4 million income tax returns from Florida, said Michael Dobzinski, spokesman for the IRS.

And, Floridians aren’t the only ones putting off Thursday’s tax deadline. The IRS received about 89.9 million of the 140 million tax returns it expects nationwide this year, according to statistics through April 2.

“Traditionally, we see within the last two weeks 25 to 30 percent of tax returns filed,” Dobzinski said.

Tax preparation firms around Manatee County are opening earlier than usual this week, expecting a surge of last-minute filers.

Ken Kigongo, owner of Liberty Tax Service at 5627 14th St. W. in Bradenton, said his firm had served about 30 people between 7 a.m. and noon Monday.

“It’s sure craziness,” Kigongo said. “Right now a lot of the reaction is almost sort of panic because people aren’t really sure of what to do. Some people think they may owe so they’re panicked trying to figure out, ‘OK, how am I going to pay?’”

Meanwhile, several changes to the 2009 tax law are causing some people to seek assistance with their tax returns to ensure they get the maximum refund possible, said Tania Black, Bradenton area manager of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service.

“I think people are waiting longer to make sure they have all their receipts and deductions tallied, that way they’re getting deductions for everything they’re entitled to,” Black said. “I think because of the economy they are being more watchful this year.”

One major change affecting tax filings this year is unemployed workers who will not be taxed on the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits received in 2009.

“There are a list of problems that they (the IRS) are seeing with returns that are slowing down the processing,” said Byron Shinn, president of Shinn & Company LLC, a tax preparation and consulting firm in Bradenton.

Other changes include the extension of the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit and the tax credit of up to $6,500 for repeat homebuyers who bought a investment home after Nov. 6.

Shinn noted the new homebuyer tax credits are requiring extensive documentation which cannot be electronically filed in order to cut down on tax credit fraud. The IRS is processing the homebuyer tax credit claims with caution as some taxpayers are falsely claiming they purchased a home or didn’t qualify for the credit.

“There’s been quite a bit of fraud that’s been processed recently here in Florida and that’s why they don’t allow the documents to be electronically filed,” Shinn said.

To accommodate last-minute tax filers this week, Liberty Tax Service is operating on extended hours that include 7 a.m.-10 p.m. today; and 7 a.m.-midnight Wednesday and Thursday. Jackson Hewitt, too, extended its hours from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and is open until midnight at its Walmart locations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service will hold extended hours at three contract postal units in Manatee County. But branch offices in Manatee County are not extending hours as the postal service expects less of a rush due to more people filing electronically.

“Over the past several years, we have seen less volume on tax night and we attribute that to more online filers,” said Gary Sawtelle, a postal service spokesman for the Tampa Bay area.

Of the 5.4 million tax returns filed by Floridians so far, Dobzinski said 4.4 million were filed electronically. Nationwide, 71.6 million of the 89.9 million returns received so far were filed electronically.

“The number of people self preparing or doing e-filing on their home computer is up 10 percent in Florida; nationally e-filing is up 7 percent,” Dobzinski said. “(The economic situation) might be a reason. Also there are more ways to e-file for free now and that might be motivation.”

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