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CHESTO MEANS BUSINESS

IRS still wants your tax returns by April 15

Accountants are outraged the feds granted an extension to pay, but not an extension for the filing date

Despite a delay in the deadline to file tax payments, the federal deadline to file tax returns hasn’t changed one iota. It’s still there on the calendar, the date that no one forgets: April 15.
Despite a delay in the deadline to file tax payments, the federal deadline to file tax returns hasn’t changed one iota. It’s still there on the calendar, the date that no one forgets: April 15.Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News/File 2018

A three-month delay for making tax payments to the IRS sure sounds great in this insane time.

We’ll take any relief we can get at this point, right?

Except there’s a big catch, and it’s driving accountants bonkers: The federal deadline to file your tax returns hasn’t changed one iota. It’s still there on the calendar, the date that no one forgets: April 15.

Many accountants had hoped maybe Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin misspoke during the announcement with President Trump on Tuesday when they unveiled the 90-day extension to pay. Mnuchin said Americans were still encouraged to file by April 15, even if they had until July 15 to send the checks.

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The IRS has changed this deadline before, in reaction to floods and other natural disasters. The coronavirus pandemic might be the worst natural disaster many of us have ever personally experienced.

But on Wednesday, the bad news came: The IRS made it clear in its latest guidance that tax returns would still be due on April 15.

The outrage was immediate. Tax preparers are already stressed enough right now, without a deadly pandemic rearranging everyone’s daily lives. The American Institute of CPAs launched a letter-writing campaign to change the minds at the Treasury, and backed a bill in the US Senate on Thursday to push the filing deadline to July 15.

Those screams you hear right now? That’s your friendly neighborhood accountant trying to figure out how to get it all done in time.

John Geraci’s accounting and consulting firm, LGA, decided last Friday that everyone would start working remotely. Geraci, managing partner at the 70-person firm in Woburn, knew everyone would be much less efficient at home. But he figured the feds would grant an extension. He said he was floored when the Treasury had the chance to offer that extension and didn’t do it.

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Tax consultant Shanikwa Davis had to send out an e-mail to her clients, explaining that despite appearances to the contrary, returns are still due by April 15. She is working remotely, and is going to her Quincy office to just pick up tax documents that clients mail to her.

In Newton, Jeffrey Levine of Alkon & Levine joined the throng of letter writers on Thursday, pleading with Mnuchin for the extension. Thousands of low-income and elderly taxpayers rely on volunteer tax preparers, helpers who are no longer available for face-to-face meetings, he wrote. Plus, he wrote there are offices such as those at H&R Block that are still seeing clients to beat the deadline, potentially causing COVID-19 to spread. Most of the employees at Levine’s 16-person firm are still coming in to process returns, though they stopped holding face-to-face meetings with clients last weekend.

Bill Moore, a tax partner at blumshapiro’s Quincy office, said it’s challenging to get everything done by April 15. Many of his clients are owners of small businesses, and they’ve got more pressing issues on their minds right now than figuring out when to sit down with their accountants — such as how they’re going to keep paying their employees during this difficult time. Moore said his entire 500-person firm is working remotely with virtual meetings with clients and more phone calls; the firm can handle the switch with its technology but those in-person sessions were valuable.

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The Massachusetts Society of CPAs swiftly moved to drum up support among its 11,000 members for the letter-writing campaign. Chief executive Amy Pitter, who was the Massachusetts tax commissioner from 2010 to 2014, said many consumers understandably assume now that they have an extra 90 days to file, just because they have 90 days later to pay. That’s simply not the case.

Taxpayers do have an option to file for an extension, as they would in normal times when a pandemic is not raging. But that still typically requires some kind of calculation of what is owed to the government, if anything. Then there’s the state issue: Pitter also sent a letter on Thursday to the state Department of Revenue, the agency she used to run, asking for a guarantee that Massachusetts will at least offer deadline relief that’s similar to the federal change. The DOR, so far, has been noncommittal.

Pitter remains hopeful: She knows the IRS doesn’t bend on much, but she said it’s hard to imagine the agency not bending on this. Time is running out. That April 15 deadline looms yet again. But it’s never been tougher to meet it.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.