Tax kit for October tax filers
Why we procrastinate filing taxes

Prodding by preparers

Getting professional tax help doesn't guarantee tax filing will be completed early.

"Almost all clients are tax procrastinators in some way," says Kathleen Pakenham, a partner in the tax litigation practice group Cooley LLP in New York City. "It's human nature."

And putting off taxes doesn't necessarily depend on a tax return's difficulty. "It's a matter of not wanting to deal (with it)," Pakenham says.

But oftentimes, the tax is not as bad as taxpayers fear it will be. "It's the monster under the bed," she says, "but the problem can be fixed or could have been resolved much earlier."

Robert D. Flach wishes all his clients would take the earlier-is-better approach. Alas, that's not the case for the Jersey City, N.J., tax professional who's been in the tax preparation business for nearly 40 years.

"No matter what I do, it seems that each year I end up with 40 or so extensions," says Flach. "It is not always the same 40 clients each year, but I do have about 10 or so clients who are extended consistently."

When delays are justified

Some clients have legitimate reasons for postponing filing taxes.

Since certain dividends became eligible in 2003 for special capital gains treatment, almost all of Flach's clients with brokerage accounts end up missing the deadlines he sets for them to get their tax data to him. That's partly because financial institutions routinely send out preliminary 1099 tax forms with information breaking out qualified and ordinary dividends, and then weeks later send out corrected 1099s with finalized details of the earnings.

That in turn leads to filing extensions.

Getting an extension also is a good idea for self-employed taxpayers who need more time to open and contribute to a simplified employee pension, or SEP, retirement plan. The SEP's deadline is April 15 unless you file for an extension, in which case it's due by the October filing deadline.

Another reason to extend filing, says Flach, is when a taxpayer doesn't have the money to pay all or any of the taxes owed by the April deadline.

"In this situation, it is extremely important that the client submit a timely extension request with whatever he or she can afford to send to avoid an excessive penalty for filing late," says Flach.

That gives the taxpayer a few months to come up with the rest of the bill. There will be late-payment charges, but they are not as severe as the late-filing penalties.

However, don't file for an extension because you think it will keep you from being audited.

"This is indeed an urban tax myth," says Flach. "Extending your return will not reduce your chance of an audit. I had a client who filed his return in October and was still audited by the IRS."

The best strategy is to figure out why you don't want to finish your taxes, deal with that filing resistance and then buckle down and get your tax return to the IRS. Whatever the final result, you'll be done, at least for a while, with your taxes.

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