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Tax relief for disaster victims

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Posted: 4 pm ET

The Labor Day weekend in Texas was horrible. In case you missed it, much of my home state is on fire.

The largest wildfire is southeast of Austin in Bastrop County. It was a lovely area, with small communities sprinkled among the Central Texas hills and forests. I say "was" because much of the area has been burned to the ground. Since the flames erupted Sunday, around 35,000 acres were or are still on fire. More than 1,400 homes have been destroyed; that number will grow. Four people have died.

I didn't intend to be so glum today, but these fires are literally too close for comfort. Another, much smaller blaze also ignited Sunday in the suburban Austin neighborhood next to ours.

A few miles of wilderness area separates that community from the one my husband and I call home. The lovely adjacent canyons and hills are the main reason we bought our home here. Over the holiday, we looked across that landscape and watched smoke billow from our neighbors' houses.

This fire is nowhere near as destructive as the Bastrop blaze. Firefighters have the one near us about 75 percent contained and yesterday residents were allowed back into the neighborhood. Owners of 24 properties had no residence to return to; 20 other homeowners found their properties damaged. But most folks are back home, resettling and trying to help their less fortunate neighbors.

Once everyone takes stock of the damages and deals with insurance companies, they also need to look at what tax relief might be available. In major disaster areas, folks have the option of filing an amended tax return and claiming the damages on their prior year's Form 1040. In many cases that gets them a refund, or a bigger one. It also puts the money in their hands sooner than waiting to file the casualty claim next tax season.

With major disasters, the Internal Revenue Service also tends to offer other tax relief, such as extended filing deadlines. That's the case in connection with the damages from Hurricane Irene. Yes, Mother Nature has a mean streak. While we're parched here in Texas, exacerbating the fire danger, residents of Eastern Seaboard states are dealing with hurricanes, tropical storm remnants and the ensuing floods and water damage.

The IRS has announced that tax deadlines for many Irene-affected residents are now pushed to Oct. 31. The filing due date change applies to individuals and businesses in the following states, with specific counties and municipalities in parentheses:

  • Connecticut (Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London, Tolland and Windham) 
  • Vermont (Addison, Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Orange, Rutland, Washington and Windsor)
  • Massachusetts (Berkshire and Franklin) 
  • New Hampshire (Carroll and Grafton) 
  • New Jersey (Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren)  
  • New York (Albany, Clinton, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Montgomery, Nassau, Orange, Otsego, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Sullivan, Suffolk, Ulster, Warren and Westchester) 
  • North Carolina (Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren, Washington and Wilson).

Puerto Rico residents also are included in the IRS announcement. You can get details on that island's eligible locales, as well as more on the additional types of tax relief for all disaster areas, at the special website page that the IRS continually updates with new disaster tax relief information.

And please remember charities that are helping people nationwide who are suffering because of myriad natural disasters. If you've got a few dollars to spare, the nonprofits and the folks they are helping would greatly appreciate your tax-deductible donations.

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