The tax deadline is a week from today. An extension might be a great idea. It’s all real at your local tax pro’s office. Late nights, new information, complex returns, tight deadlines — all ingredients for something to go wrong. Is it really a good idea for you to want your tax filing to come out of that?
You tax return isn’t a trivial item. That’s why you are paying for it, or why you are spending hours slaving over it. The consequences of a seemingly minor mistake can be shockingly expensive. You own 10% of a Canadian partnership with some fishing buddies and you didn’t report it on the right form? That’s a $10,000 penalty for you!
That’s why it’s unwise to try to rush it through at the deadline, when you can easily get an extension and have it prepared by somebody who has had some sleep and nutrition.
Here are things I hear from people who don’t want to be extended:
This means I will get audited! No it doesn’t. I have seen zero evidence that extending a return increases the risk of audit. I have filed my own 1040 on extension every year since at least 1990, and have yet to be audited (*knocks wood*). A return with a mistake, on the other hand, definitely increases your risk of audit.
But this means they get an extra six months to look at my return! Yes it does. That doesn’t mean much. While I’m sure it’s happened, I have yet to see a case where a taxpayer had to pay an amount on audit on an extended return that wouldn’t have been caught had the return not been exended in 30 years of tax practice. I have seen cases where we were able to get refunds because we found an error on the return three years after the original due date, but before the extended filing date. It can work both ways.
I always file on time! Extended returns are still filed on time. It’s just a different time. This is usually more an assertion of the individual’s self-importance. It really means “you should drop everything else you are doing and finish my return.” It asserts ego over wisdom and practicality.
Now, the positive things about extending:
It gives you more time to make certain tax return elections. Automatic accounting method changes can be filed with extended returns. For many taxpayers, especially those with real estate investments on their 1040, an extension may give your preparer extra time to find new deductions that are “biblical” in scale under the new “repair” regulations. These aren’t available on amended returns.
It may give you more time to fund deductions. If you have a Keogh or SEP retirement plan, extending your 1040 gives you until October 15 to fund your 2014 deductible retirement plan contributions. Remember, though, that some deductions still have to be funded by April 15 even on extended returns, including IRA and HSA contributions.
Extensions may avoid an amended return. It’s not unknown for a taxpayer who is already filed a complex return to get a late K-1 or a 1099 from a new investment that they didn’t think would issue one. That means they have to file an amended return. The IRS does look at these. It’s always better to extend than amend.
Extensions can turn a 5% per month non-filing penalty into a 1/2% per month late payment penalty. If you are caught short and can’t pay, it’s a lot cheaper to extend than to blow off the payment.
Finally, and most importantly, an extended return is likely to be more accurate. Workload compression is something tax preparers talk about with each other, if not so much in public. Tired people make more mistakes, and that includes preparers. If you really want to attract IRS attention, drop a digit from a six-figure 1099 or K-1 number.
If you extend, you still need to have 90% of your tax paid in when you file Form 4868 to avoid penalties. Many taxpayers extending 2014 returns will include the amount they would pay as their 2015 first-quarter estimate with the extension payment; that payment is due April 15 too, and it gives them a little cushion against surprises on the extended return.
This is another in our series of 2015 Filing Season Tips. Come back every day for a new one through April 15!
Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #4: Procrastinate! “What happens if you wake up and it’s April 15, 2015, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension.”
Robert Wood, 9 Innocent Tax Return Mistakes That Trigger IRS Problems. Nine more good reasons to extend and get your return right.
TaxGrrrl, 13 Quirky Beer And Tax Facts On National Beer Day. They say that was yesterday, but any tax pro will tell you it’s really April 15.
The Des Moines Register reports: Bill advances to exempt bees from sales tax
The [Iowa] House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would exclude the sale of honey bees from state sales tax laws.
Honey bees have been the subject of much concern in recent years as their numbers have mysteriously declined. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total losses to managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide during the 2013-2014 winter.
Those honey bee losses – which have been occurring for the last decade – have been linked to many things, including the use of pesticides, disease and loss of habitat.
As far as I know, this is the first time the decline in bees has been linked to sales taxes.
I’m sympathetic to this, in a way, in that I think business inputs should not be subject to sales tax. Still, this is the wrong way to go about it. While I love bees, there’s nothing about apiculture that makes it different from, say, raising earthworms, from a tax policy viewpoint. A group with good lobbyists gets the ball rolling, and everyone else gets left behind.
TaxProf, Brown: The IRS Should Report on Tax Returns Filed by All 535 Members of Congress. I have a better idea: The President, every member of Congress, every cabinet member, and the IRS Commissioner should all have to prepare their 1040s by hand on a live webcast with a running comment bar. The webcasts should be archived on the Library of Congress website, along with the completed tax returns. I think tax simplification would follow in a hurry.
Andrew Lundeen, The Estate Tax Provides Less than One Percent of Federal Revenue (Tax Policy Blog). The rich guy isn’t buying.
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 699
Career Corner. #BusySeasonProblems: Inflatable Sharks; Late-night Checklists; Unexpected Taxable Income (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).