The IRS and Treasury Department have extended the tax filing season, pushing the deadline to May 17 from April 15.
The extension won't help every taxpayer, however.
That's because it does not include estimated tax payments, which are still due April 15.
Some taxpayers must make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year to avoid penalties. Estimated tax is used to pay levies on income that is not subject to withholding, including earnings from self-employment, interest, dividends, rent and alimony, according to the IRS.
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This mostly affects self-employed individuals, as well as those with small businesses such as sole proprietors, partners and S-corporation shareholders — generally, anyone who doesn't work for an employer that withholds taxes from their paycheck.
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In the 2018 tax year, more than 9.5 million individual returns filed for the year included estimated payments. That's about 6% of the total 154 million returns submitted.
"While we appreciate the IRS recognition that a filing deadline postponement is indeed necessary, the announcement is far too selective in who is receiving relief," said Barry Melancon, a certified public accountant, chartered global management accountant, and president and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs, in a Wednesday statement. "In fact, the taxpayers who are most likely to benefit from this additional time are taxpayers who are able to meet the original filing deadline."
In 2020, the IRS did adjust the deadline for the first of four estimated tax payments to July 15 from April 15, the same extension as the overall tax filing deadline. However, it didn't push back the remaining three payments — the second quarterly payment was also due on July 15, 2020.
More work for the taxpayer
Not including estimated payments effectively nullifies postponing the deadline for some taxpayers, according to the AICPA.
That's because calculating estimated tax payments includes other tax preparation, which will all need to be completed by the April 15 deadline.
To avoid penalties for underpaying estimated taxes, people who owe more than $1,000 in tax after subtracting withholding and credits must pay the IRS at least 90% of the tax for the current year or 100% of the tax for the prior year, whichever is smaller.
That means to calculate a quarterly estimated payment, taxpayers need to either project their income for the year or have their previous year's income handy as they'd have it for their tax return.
"You still have to complete the 2020 return to get a bottom-line number to pretty much do an estimate," said Rhonda Collins, director of tax content and government relations at the National Association of Tax Professionals. "So it's still going to create a little bit of work for the taxpayer."
On top of that, small businesses and self-employed individuals that pay estimated taxes have been hit particularly hard by the Covid pandemic and may be dealing with multiple issues that would complicate tax filing. Some may have loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan or another grant.
"Conflating all of those things on top of each other, there is really no relief for those individuals," said Melancon.
No relief for most small businesses
To be sure, keeping the April 15 estimated tax deadline can help those who need to make the quarterly payments appropriately manage their cash flow throughout the year, said Sheneya Wilson, CPA and founder of Fola Financial in New York.
Even if you do make estimated payments, you can still calculate what you owe April 15 and take advantage of the extension to file your tax return later, said Wilson.
The IRS did adjust the estimated tax deadline for some — taxpayers and businesses in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have until June 15 to file their tax returns, make contributions to certain accounts and pay their first estimated tax payment.
The deadlines were extended for those filers following severe winter storms that were declared a disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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