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Late tax filers push the envelope

| Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Like holidays and birthdays, tax day comes only once a year.

But unlike his birthday, Mike Lupone dreads April 15.

"I wait until almost the last possible day," Lupone said yesterday before walking into H&R Block on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. "It's like a tradition for me. I always seem to owe money, so I hold off writing that check."

Lupone isn't alone. The three weeks leading up to tax day traditionally have been the most active for filing tax returns, said David Stewart, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service.

"People either just haven't gotten to doing it, or they have a balance due and are waiting to write the check," Stewart said. "The people who know they're owed a refund usually file as soon as possible."

The IRS collected about $2.7 trillion last year while doling out 107 million refunds totaling $261 billion, according to the agency.

In the three weeks leading up to last year's deadline, the IRS said it received about 40 million returns — about 26 percent of the 156.3 million returns filed.

Heather Zietner was another of this year's procrastinators.

"I was putting off my taxes until March, when I lost my forms," said Zietner, 39, of Polish Hill, who filed yesterday. "I recently found them and figured I better do it before it's too late."

Zietner called her experience this year "an absolute nightmare," but Lori Palmer, general manager for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service on Banksville Road, said people come in with stories like that every year.

"People have different reasons, but a lot of people wait until the last minute and then come in," she said.

People can file online — something Stewart said the IRS encourages — or file for an extension. Either way, you must act today to avoid a possible penalty, Stewart said.

"If you waited until today to file your taxes, it's sort of like the Masters (golf tournament)," he said. "There's so much more pressure to not make those simple mistakes."

Additional Information:

Still need to file?

• It's not too late to file your federal taxes online. Go to www.irs.gov or to your nearest tax service location. Online filing is free, and with direct deposit, you can receive your refund in about two weeks, IRS spokesman David Stewart said.

• If you need an extension, you can request one from the IRS. The extension is for six months, but today still is the deadline for paying the government any outstanding taxes, Stewart said. If you haven't calculated what you owe but your financial circumstances haven't changed much from last year, Stewart recommended sending the government the same amount you paid last year, and then filing at a later date.

• If you're filing by mail, most U.S. Postal Service locations in Pittsburgh are open until 6 or 7 p.m. Unlike previous years, workers will not be stationed outside post offices after hours to collect stamped returns, Postal Service spokesman Tad Kelley said. Kelley suggested calling your local post office to get today's hours of operation and check the time of the last pick-up of the drop box you plan to use.

• Regardless of whether you go to an accountant or tax service, you still can be held accountable if there are errors with your taxes, said Lori Palmer, general manager for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service on Banksville Road. 'We ask questions and make those entries, and we can tell you what you can and cannot include, but we are using the information you provide. So, ultimately, any taxes due are the taxpayers responsibility,' Palmer said.

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