Color of Money: Procrastination Has Its Price

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  • WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has good news for some taxpayers.

    First, if you didn’t file your tax return in 2009, you still have time — until April 15 — to claim any refund you might be due. The IRS estimates that half the potential refunds for 2009 are more than $500. That’s not chump change in my book. It could be enough to help pay for the preventive maintenance you’re supposed to regularly get for your car.

    There is a three-year window from the original deadline of your tax return to claim a refund. If you don’t file your return within this time period, your money goes to Uncle Sam.

    The 984,400 taxpayers who did not file a federal income tax return for 2009 could be giving up a little more than $917 million, the IRS estimates.

    I know that the government needs the money right now, but I bet you need it more. This procrastination, if that’s why you didn’t file, is costly. More than 120 million individual filers received a tax refund during the 2012 fiscal year. The refunds totaled almost $322.7 billion. The average individual income tax refund (based on Forms 1040, 1040-A, and 1040-EZ) was $2,879.

    Maybe you didn’t file because you didn’t have much income. But go back and look at your W-2. Did you have your taxes withheld? The IRS comes up with their estimate by using third-party information it receives, such as reported income tax withholdings on W-2 forms.

    There is a catch to getting your refund. The IRS may hold your 2009 refund check if you have not filed tax returns for 2010 and 2011.

    “If a taxpayer is facing a time crunch for doing this, the key is to be sure that the 2009 return, at least, is filed by April 15,” said IRS spokesman Eric Smith.

    In other good news, the IRS says it is giving late-payment penalty relief to businesses and individuals who request an extension.

    But the relief is only available to filers attaching to their returns any of the 31 forms that were held up primarily because of the late enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act. You remember, this was the law that was passed to prevent a leap over the “fiscal cliff.”

    The law had an impact on a number of tax forms, which the IRS had to revise. “Revising those forms required extensive programming and testing of IRS systems, which delayed the IRS’ ability to release, accept, and process those forms,” the agency said. “These delays may affect the ability of some taxpayers to timely estimate and pay their 2012 tax liability when requesting an extension to file.”

    You are charged a late-payment penalty on tax payments made after the regular filing deadline. The penalty is one-half of 1 percent of the tax you owe per month. There’s no late-payment or late-filing penalty if you file a return late that results in a refund, Smith said.

    Some of the delayed 2012 forms include:

    – Form 3800, General Business Credit.

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