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The taxman cometh, but extensions are available

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If seeing today's date, April 15, on the calendar sent a wave of panic through you because of not-yet-filed income taxes, relax. Taxpayers have until Tuesday to file their state and federal taxes.

Still not enough time? Then you may be among the 29,000 West Virginians whom the IRS expects will ask for an extension to file their income taxes.

Last year, around 10.5 million taxpayers nationwide filed for an extension to pay their taxes. An extension can be filed for any reason and gives taxpayers until Oct. 15 to file.

But if you think you can wait until October to pay taxes, think again. Extensions are for filing only; the taxes themselves are still due by April 17.

"We would remind people that it's not an extension to pay," IRS spokesman Mark Hanson said. "If you owe the IRS, you need to pay the IRS by April 17 in order to avoid penalties and interest." 

Those who do choose to file an extension must estimate what they owe in taxes and pay that amount by April 17.

 "If you overpay, when you file you would be able to get that money refunded to you," Hanson said.

Some taxpayers get an extension without asking for one. Military members on duty out of the country and U.S. citizens and resident aliens living and working abroad may wait until June 15 to file and pay. Interest will still apply, though, to payments made after April 17.

Military members serving in a combat zone may file and pay their taxes at least 180 days from when they leave the combat zone.

Closer to home, West Virginians affected by severe storms in Logan, Lincoln, Marion and Wayne counties, which were declared federal disaster areas, have until May 31 to file and pay taxes. Those with questions on tax extensions for disaster declarations may call 866-562-5227 for more details.

For those that do not qualify for an automatic extension, the IRS says the easiest way to get an extension is at the agency's website, IRS.gov. There, people can find a link to a Form 4868 or file at no charge using Freefile. People who don't want to go online will have to fill out a Form 4868 and mail it in.

People may also get help from a professional tax preparer. Brenda Shilling, the owner of Eagle Tax in Charleston, expects to see around 20 people in her office on the April 17 deadline. The office will open on Sunday, too, in case some people haven't heard that the deadline has been extended this year.

Only one or two people came into her office to file an extension last year, Shilling said.

"Unfortunately, some people don't even file an extension," she said. "They'll wait and not [file their taxes or get an extension]."

Not filing and paying taxes or getting an extension is the worst thing you can do, Hanson said.

If you can't pay the entire amount, Hanson says to pay as much as possible before the April 17 deadline. The IRS charges penalties on any unpaid balance.

Next, people should get in touch with an IRS representative or visit a local IRS office to work out an alternative payment plan. 

"We have flexibility to set up installment agreement," Hanson said. "The taxpayer has to get in touch with us to set up a plan. The last thing we want to do is take food off the table right now. We can work with them to set up a way that's less financially difficult."

Lastly, Hanson warns that the IRS will never send out emails requesting personal information from taxpayers.  Some messages are scams that promise more money from the IRS or threaten that the recipient will be audited. The IRS will not contact people through email and request personal information, he said. Those who receive such an email should not delete the message or forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Do not give out personal information via email, he said.

"If they receive correspondence claiming to be the IRS, they have the right to call or contact us," Hanson said. "We want people to protect their personal information."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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