Tax forms scarce as state, feds push for e-filing
Benjamin Franklin is said to have coined the phrase that nothing is certain except death and taxes.
Unlike the former, everyone has the same deadline for income taxes, but a complex calendar sits between now and April 15.
Federal and state agencies planned to begin accepting individual tax filings on Jan. 21, but now won't do so until Jan. 31. The Internal Revenue Service blamed last fall's federal government shutdown.
“A lot of our preparation time for the upcoming filing season takes place in October, November and December,” IRS regional spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins said.
Monday is the first day businesses can file 2013 federal income taxes, electronically or with paper forms.
“That includes corporations, s-corps or small corporations, partnerships and tax-exempt charitable organizations,” Jenkins said.
For unincorporated small businesses that use Form 1040 and estates and trusts that use Form 1041, the start date for filing is the same as for non-business filers.
Tax preparers are working with those who can't wait until then, but neither Washington nor Harrisburg will get them any sooner.
“They will be held by the software providers until they can be transmitted to the IRS and to the (state) Revenue Department on Jan. 31,” department spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said.
Not everyone has forms yet.
“In most cases employers have until Jan. 31 to distribute W-2s,” Jenkins said. “People should not be filing until they've received their W-2s, their 1099s or whatever other documentation they need to help them file a complete and accurate return.”
After the start date, a taxpayer can go online and let the process do the math.
“If there is some required information that is missing, you will get a bounce-back,” Jenkins said. “If you file on paper, it could be a matter of weeks before you find out there was an error. E-file is a way to ensure accuracy.”
Jenkins said the IRS wants to have 80 percent of returns filed electronically.
“It looks like we approached the 83 percent e-filing rate for last year's personal tax returns,” Jenkins said.
The state is pushing online tax filing, too.
“Within the next seven days we hope to publicly launch and drive people to the new e-file platform,” Brassell said.
State and federal agencies insist that e-filing is the most cost-effective and efficient way of filing.
“They're absolutely protected, similar to how online banking records are protected,” Brassell said. “There are encryptions and data security and industry standards.”
The push toward electronic filing ended the automatic mailing of forms.
“This is the first year that we are not automatically printing and mailing tax booklets and forms to Pennsylvania households,” Brassell said.
“We haven't mailed out the forms for a couple years,” Jenkins said. “With the increase in popularity of e-filing, mailing things to people who are not going to use them is somewhat wasteful.”
That doesn't mean all of the process is going to be paperless. The adoption credit, for instance, requires supportive documentation that has to be mailed.
“Individuals with certain exceptions do not have to mail in afterward unless they are asked by the IRS to submit additional documentation,” Jenkins said.
Filers who prefer paper can get the required materials.
“They can request to have the forms and the publications they need mailed to them,” Jenkins said.
Legislative constituent offices get them, as do some libraries and post offices. Jenkins said would-be paper filers should contact their local lawmakers, libraries and/or post offices.
In White Oak and Homestead, state Rep. Marc Gergely's constituent offices plan to offer them, but not yet.
“We've already had several people come in asking for them,” staffer Christine Cantola said last week.
Some forms arrived but Thomas Maglicco, Gergely's chief of staff, said “we always wait until we can put them out.”
They had two boxes as of Thursday and usually get closer to 20 boxes. Cantola said the wait last year lasted into late February.
“Last year, because tax law for 2012 wasn't passed until early 2013, there was a delay in updating, printing and shipping because the information contained in the forms and publications is based on the tax law,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the IRS has walk-in offices where federal forms can be obtained, including one at 4314 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville. She said they typically are open on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and then from 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.