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Published: Thursday, 4/15/2004

Procrastinators hurry to file taxes

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER

Robert Currier, a Toledo retiree who visited an H&R Block office in East Toledo yesterday, is among millions of people nationwide who procrastinate on filing income-tax returns.

"I always wait," he said, conceding he even had a reminder from his preparer. "I hate this stuff."

This year he got good news: He won't get much back, but at least he won't owe.

Today is the dreaded deadline for most people to file federal, state, and local income tax returns. There are many reasons for last-minute filing. Historically, about one in four taxpayers wait until the last week to file, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

About 89 million of the 130 million returns expected this year had been filed by last week, the IRS said. That leaves 40 million to be filed, of which the government anticipates 8.5 million will ask for automatic four-month extensions.

By mid-morning yesterday, dozens of taxpayers were waiting for assistance at the IRS office at Four SeaGate in downtown Toledo.

Olga Hernandez, 17, who filed her first tax return, said she waited to file at the same time as her parents. She expected to get a modest refund, about $30 from her wages from a fast-food restaurant. Her first impression of the tax system: "It's very complicated."

Frank Macino, a semiretired part-time laborer, had a simple explanation for his tardiness: "I just keep forgetting," he said.

Patricia Kidwell, manager of the H&R Block office in the Weber Building at Main and Front streets in East Toledo, said she has asked customers for 12 years why they wait until

the last minute.

"A lot of them fear they will owe money," she said. "They're afraid to hear the results [but] actually we surprise a lot of them."

IRS spokesman Chris Kerns said many taxpayers who file in April get refunds.

For the entire filing season, 80 percent of filers get refunds, he said.

The average refund so far this year is $2,090, up from $1,988 a year ago.

Carl Windnagle, a Maumee certified public accountant, said he has been busy for days but expects a slowdown today. "All I do on the 15th is extensions," he explained.

His theory is that a lot of last-minute filers think if they come in late they get more attention. That's not true, he said.

Marcie Emch yesterday closed her home-based Point Place business, Marcie's Business Services, after 35 years. She said she was handling filing extensions for people but today will refer new business to another preparer so she can retire.

"We find a whole lot of procrastinators," she said. "The idea of deadlines [seems] just not important anymore."

Taxpayers who have waited this long still have several options.

They can buck the lines at tax-preparation firms today.

They can do their own returns and face the lines at the post office (the main post office on St. Clair Street downtown will collect mail until midnight).

Or they can file an extension (Form 4868) by mail, through a tax preparer, or online.

Taxpayers who owe money should estimate the amount and pay it by today with the extension form, or face penalties later.

Toledo attorney Rick Kerger will be among those putting tax returns in the mail today.

"You do other things until you can't avoid doing taxes," he explained. "The biggest problem is just taking the time to pull information together. Some people enjoy doing that. I don't."

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or (419) 724-6129.



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