For those among us who have been putting off filing out their tax returns until the last possible moment — a moment that’s fast approaching there’s both good news and bad news this year.
The good news is that this year they will get a reprieve of sorts from the usual April 15 filing deadline — an extra two days, Tuesday, April 17.
The bad news is that they still have to file their return by the end of the day on Tuesday. And if they are planning on using the U.S. Postal Service here in Steele County to send those returns, the day may end earlier than they think.
So why the extra two days to turn in the tax return this year?
There are a couple of reasons. First and foremost is that the usual April 15 deadline falls on a weekend this year — Sunday, to be exact. When the deadline falls on the weekend, the official filing day is pushed back, theoretically to the Monday following that weekend because of a little known holiday — Emancipation Day.
And this is where it starts to get complicated.
Clay Sanford, an IRS media spokesperson from Dallas, Texas, noted in an email on Tuesday that this upcoming Monday is Emancipation Day, “a Washington, D.C., holiday … observed on Monday, April 16.” And that gives everybody an additional day to file their taxes, he said.
“By law, Washington holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do,” said Sanford.
And, of course, Emancipation Day is meant to remember the emancipation of the slaves by Abraham Lincoln through the Emancipation Proclamation.
Except the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln in 1862 on Sept. 22, not April 16. And it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, again, not April 16.
So where did April 16 come from that it would be made a holiday?
Roughly five months and six days before Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation for the entire country he signed an act into law that ended slavery in Washington, D.C., by paying D.C. slave owners — and yes, there were about 900 or so there altogether — up to $300 for each slave they owned. The bill, known as the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act or simply the Compensated Emancipation Act, was signed into law by the president on April 16, 1862.
And when Washington, D.C. closes down, it is considered a federal holiday. The bottom result is that it’s like a federal holiday and that means that taxpayers have an extra day to file taxes.
But that doesn’t mean filers necessarily have as much time as they might have had in the past.
It used to be, when taxpayers depended on the U.S. Postal Service to send their tax returns to the IRS, that final day to file was a bit chaotic, to say the least, said Jan Guse, the postmaster of the Owatonna Post Office. Guse, who was a clerk in the post office at the time, said there would be separate boxes for federal returns and state returns, the lobby would be crowded, and the hours would be extended so the procrastinators among us could still get their returns in before midnight so those returns would have the much needed April 15 postmarks on them.
“We haven’t done that for years,” Guse said. “I don’t remember the last time we did that.”
The change, she said, has to do with the fact that so many people file their taxes electronically now and so don’t use the postal service for mailing their tax returns.
“Years ago, it was crazy,” Guse said. “But now with e-file, it’s not as big of a deal. The volume’s not the same.”
That means that things have changed at the post office from how they used to be done on tax day in years past. And even the later lobby hours have been done away with, Guse said.
“The last moment is 5 o’clock,” she said.
That means that for those planning to mail their returns from Owatonna, they need to make certain they’re turned in the mailbox at the post office — the one outside or the one in the lobby — by 5 p.m. Otherwise, they will not be picked up until the next day and thus will be considered late.
Sanford from the IRS said it order to be considered timely it must bear that postmark of the final day of filing — in this case this year April 17. Still, he said, even if a person cannot pay everything he or she owes, it’s better to file it that day than not file it at all.
“It’s important to note that the failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty,” said Sanford. “You should file your tax return on time each year, even if you’re not able to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date. You can reduce additional interest and penalties by maying as much as you can with your tax return.”
And, he added, taxpayers should explore other payment options such as getting a loan or making an installment agreement to make payments.
“The IRS will work with you,” he said.
And, of course, one can always file for an extension, which will generally give the taxpayer an extra six months to file his or her taxes — though not quite this year. This year requesting an extension will only give taxpayers to Monday, Oct. 15 to file.