The Common Law

Nuts and bolts of filing your tax return

So you still haven't filed your tax return even though the deadline is only days away? You may want to read last week's "Common Law" column, which discussed the basics of filing a request for an automatic extension to file an individual tax return (Form 4868). For the rest of the procrastinators out there, here are some short answers to basic questions related to filing a tax return.

April 15 is on a Sunday this year. When is the deadline to file?

April 17. This year taxpayers will have extra time to file and pay because April 15 falls on a Sunday and the following day, Monday, April 16, is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day). Most of the IRS forms state that April 16 is the deadline to file and pay for 2007. However, the IRS only recently realized its error and has since issued an instruction that any IRS form or publication that shows an "April 16, 2007" deadline should now be read as "April 17, 2007." The IRS uses the "timely mailed is timely filed" rule, which means that the tax return will be considered timely filed as long as the tax return is postmarked by April 17. It is always best to use certified mail to have proof of the mailing date, particularly if you are filing the tax return at or near the deadline.

Should I still file a tax return if I can't pay the money I owe?

Yes. It is not a crime if you fail to pay your taxes immediately upon filing your tax return. It can be a crime, however, when someone intentionally and willfully fails to file a tax return. Someone who fails to file a tax return can also be subject to significant fines.

How long should I hold onto the documents that support my tax return?

Documents that support an individual tax return should be kept for at least three years, mainly because the IRS has three years after you file a tax return to complete an audit. A more cautious approach is to keep the documents for six years, which is the limit the IRS can audit someone who it suspects has underreported income by 25% or more.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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