Area taxpayers filing earlier this year

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks 2008 Tax forms at the Clovis-Carver Public Library Tuesday, the day before tax day.

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom New Mexico correspondent

To tax-filing procrastinators, Lloyd Harrison says “haste makes waste.”

These are words of warning from Harrison, a Portales tax preparer with Anchor Accounting. He advises folks to begin early today to meet the midnight deadline for filing 2008 income tax returns.

Everyone must meet the deadline – even if requesting extensions – to avoid late penalties.

Following annual tradition, both the Clovis and Portales post offices will be ready to postmark income tax returns for April 15 if placed in appropriate boxes shortly after midnight on Thursday.

John Yeast, postmaster of the Clovis Post Office, said for tax returns to be postmarked April 15, they must be deposited in outgoing boxes in the lobby of the post office on 21st Street or in collection boxes just outside.

In Portales, Postmaster Lea Anne Johnson said a clerk will be available after midnight to stamp any tax returns placed in boxes in the post office lobby or the alley behind the post office.

Harrison, who has been helping people file their tax returns for more than three decades, emphasized it is especially important for people filing returns online to get an early start.

“Sometimes you cannot do it online at the last minute because everyone is trying to and systems may shut down,” Harrison warned.

While the last-minute tax-filing rush may be a national tradition, Harrison and other area tax preparers, agree this year it is noticeably different. They cite a weaker and more uncertain economy in a climate riddled with massive job cuts and layoffs.

Richard Barris with H&R Block in Clovis said due to the economy, many taxpayers came in about a week earlier than last year to file their tax returns. Harrison said there was an initial rush when the IRS opened the filing online Jan. 15.

The only exception is for those owing the government money. Many people wait until the last minute to file returns.

Based on the feedback from clients, Harrison said, people don’t want to spend their tax return money.

“A lot of money is going into home operational budgets,” he said. “We are also seeing a lot of people that flat do not want to pay anything to the government. They want to make sure they get every legal deduction they can. They do not want to pay one dollar more than they have to.”

Barris said most people are using their refunds for different things, mostly higher education.

“When the economy is slow, more people go back to school or want to pay off school loans,” he said.

“Also, some people are living off of their income tax returns, those who’ve lost their jobs or have been laid off. They are having to stretch the money and make it last a little longer,” added Barris, who has also been helping prepare tax returns for more than 30 years.

In offering last minute tips, Barris reminds people about the newest and biggest deduction being offered to first-time homebuyers.

“If you bought a house after the first of the year, you can still claim it on your 2008 income tax return, up to $8,000,” Barris said.

According to Barris, even if people have already filed their 2008 returns, they can file an amendment. He said taxpayers purchasing homes in 2008 may qualify for up to $7,500 back in an interest-free loan.

For last-minute filers, Barris said, “Even if you owe money, it is best to file by midnight so there will be no late filing fees. The late filing fee is 5 percent per month with a cap of 25 percent.”

“Even if you can’t pay, you still want to file,” he added. “If you file for an extension, though, you still need to pay 90 percent of what you think you will owe in order to avoid a penalty.”