A Cure for the Worst Tax Procrastination: Free Tax Extensions

Now even chronic procrastinators have no excuse for giving the IRS more money than absolutely required.

Last year, more than 10 million taxpayers applied for a tax extension on filing their returns – thus, not only sparing themselves from having to fork over a monthly 5 percent penalty for missing the IRS’ dreaded deadline, but also potentially avoiding making costly mistakes in a mad dash to comply.

“Rushing can cause last-minute filers to forget necessary paperwork and miss out on claiming key tax credits and deductions,” says Elaine Smith, master tax advisor at H&R Block, the giant tax preparation firm.

So with this year’s April 17 filing deadline looming, it’s a big deal that participating offices at H&R Block www.hrblock.com will be offering free tax-extension filing from April 1 right through to D-Day for taxpayers. An extension buys an extra six months – until October 15 – to get those returns in.

Ah, but don’t completely stop sweating just yet.

Just because you file for an automatic extension doesn’t mean the IRS calls a time-out on any taxes due. (The U.S. national debt is $15 trillion-and-counting, and the money’s got to come from somewhere.) Those who fail to pay up at the same time they submit Form 4868 face being hit with both late payment fees and interest on what’s owed.

“It’s definitely not a way to keep more of your own money in your pocket,” says Smith.

With the tax code having gotten so complex over the years, it’s easy to see why the extra six months would be needed. How many parents of special-needs children know, for instance, that the money they pay for their kid’s supplementary classes or programs is considered a deductible expense if recommended by a doctor? Or that unemployment benefits must be reported as taxable income?

That’s why it helps to consult a professional like those at H&R Block, which offers guaranteed in-person services at its retail offices nationwide as well as the only face-to-face online tax preparation through Block LiveSM.

One last thing: For those wondering why this year’s filing deadline is April 17, that’s because the normal cut-off date – April 15 – falls on a Sunday, and that Monday is Emancipation Day in the nation’s capital.