GREENFIELD — With just hours to go before time expires on the 2014 tax season, tonight’s filing deadline is bearing down on procrastinators who are scooping up their W2s and calculating deductions at the last minute.
On Monday, professional tax preparers were turning a brisk trade, working with people like Steve Griggs to finish their returns in time to be filed by midnight tonight.
Griggs, a California-based long-haul trucker, drove his semi out of Portland, Ore., several days ago en route to Washington, D.C., and the eastern seaboard with nothing but nearly 3,000 miles of open road and tax day between his load and his destination.
He didn’t get his taxes done before he left.
“You still have to take care of business,” Griggs said Monday afternoon while waiting on Julie Martin, a tax preparer for Jackson Hewitt, to finish her calculations.
Griggs had taken his mind off the road as he crossed the county line on Interstate 70 just long enough to pick up the phone to call Wal-Mart.
“I asked them if they had anyone doing taxes there. They said yes, so I put it in my navigator, and eight miles later here I am.”
For Griggs, who’s been driving cross-country for 10 years, stopping off at the last minute wasn’t so much procrastination as just the way things get done in his rolling office, he said.
Martin, who is in her first year of assisting filers with their personal returns after seven years of preparing corporate tax returns, said it’s been busier at the Jackson Hewitt kiosk this year, but the uptick could be the result of having the desks staffed fulltime for 2014.
“We’ve been busy since April 1, but I think it’s probably due to the regular hours,” Martin said. “You’ve got to have that consistency.”
By and large, Martin said, most late filers are simply running late, falling prey to procrastination’s bite.
Some, however, wait because they owe, or believe they will owe, the taxman a chunk of change, said Tim Plunkett, president and owner of Liberty Tax Service in Greenfield.
And that’s something that people would do well to learn sooner rather than later.
“I think people are just afraid this year,” Plunkett said, adding that this year’s season has been busier than in recent years.
“The earlier you know, the better,” he said. “That way, you can start planning for it. If you find out you owe money, you can begin planning in February.”
One peril with working on taxes so late, Plunkett says, is finding incomplete or erroneous information. There is little or no time to rectify the problem.
“It adds to our stress level as well,” he said. “I would like to spend as much time with someone who has one minute to file as with someone who is here early, but sometimes that’s not always possible.”
While those who owe might be better served by filing early, taxpayers who do not owe Uncle Sam money face no penalty for filing a federal tax return after the deadline.
“You might miss out on some credits, but there is no penalty if you don’t owe anything,” Martin said.
For taxpayers looking toward a refund – about three-fourths of those filing will get money back – April 15 has no bite at all.
But most of those expecting a refund have already filed.
“Most people with refunds are filing early in January, February and March because they’d like the refund early,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a story prepared by The Associated Press. “So we don’t see an incentive and we don’t see much experience of people waiting later for us to keep the money longer.”
One major misconception Plunkett sees, however, is the notion that taxpayers can avoid paying on April 15 by filing an extension.
“You can get an extension on filing your return, but you can’t get an extension on what you owe,” he said.
Souk Keomanivong, a 35-year-old self-employed contractor from Greenfield, wasn’t stressing too badly Monday as he waited for Martin to finish his return.
“I always file late,” he said. “It’s just procrastination.
“But (Martin) has been very accommodating,” Keomanivong said. “I’m very confident that we’ll get everything filed on time… I hope.”
There’s one place, however, with no wiggle room for last-minute federal filers: the post office.
“We have regular hours (today), said Robin Dutrow at the U.S. Postal Service in Greenfield. “We’ll be open until 6 p.m.”
Dutrow said lines at the Greenfield post office Monday were full of people asking for Priority Mail envelopes and trying to get their returns off before the deadline.
“We’ve been hopping down here, and (today) is going to be crazy, too,” Dutrow said.
In addition to knowing when the post office is open, those waiting to file today should verify pickup times on collection boxes and deposit their returns prior to the last scheduled pickup time, wrote Mary Dando, media liaison for the postal service, in an email Monday.
Residents should also be sure of their postage. Some returns include many forms and may require extra postage. The IRS will not pay postage due and will return items to the sender, Dando wrote.
For Martin, the continuing flow of forms, files and deductions just kept coming Monday with no let-up in sight before the day ends today.
“We’ve got quite a few appointments tomorrow; it’s booked and just keeps getting busier,” she said.
“It’s OK,” she said with a shrug and a smile. “We’ll get them done.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.