The IRS announced last month that it will begin accepting 2015 individual income tax returns via electronic filing, and will start processing paper returns, on January 19, 2016. The same announcement says that the deadline for filing 2015 returns is April 18, 2016.
Yes, the filing deadline this year is April 18, not April 15. Why? Because Emancipation Day, a holiday that is observed in only a few states, is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia. The official DC holiday is April 16, but since April 16, 2016, falls on a Saturday, the holiday will be observed on Friday, April 15. That means you get three whole days extra to file your return, unless you are a resident of Maine or Massachusetts, in which case you get still another day because of the observance of Patriots Day in those states on April 18.
For you early birds, the IRS announcement also says that there is “no advantage” to filing a paper return before e-filing begins on January 19. You may be able to prepare your return through an e-filing vendor prior to January 19, however. The vendor just won’t submit it to the IRS until e-filing begins.
The IRS proclaims that “[c]hoosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.” That may be true, but the advent of e-filing and direct deposit for refunds, coupled with the expansion of refundable tax credits (credits that qualify the filer for a refund even if the filer doesn’t owe any tax) has created a veritable cottage industry of filing tax returns using stolen identities to obtain fraudulent refunds.
In response to this enormous problem, which the IRS has dubbed “identity theft tax refund fraud,” the IRS has launched an initiative called Security Summit. The IRS says it is working with state tax officials, tax preparation software vendors, and tax preparation firms to find ways to stop identity theft in tax return filing.
The IRS news release announcing the dates for filing 2015 returns is IR-2015-139. Information on the Security Summit initiative can be found on the IRS website.
While I’m on the subject, a reminder: don’t believe anyone who says they have figured out a scheme for you to legally avoid filing a tax return. If you are any less than completely convinced about this, just look up Wesley Snipes. He spent almost three years in federal prison because he bought into such a scheme.
The IRS has published, and periodically updates, a guide that describes the most commonly used schemes by which people claim they don’t have to file a tax return or pay income tax. The guide is titled “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments” and is posted on the IRS website.
Most of the schemes described in that guide are, if you think about it for a few minutes, founded on premises that are pretty obviously false. A couple of the schemes, however, are relatively more plausible (I say relatively more plausible because a bit of background information is necessary to expose their false premises, as compared with the obviously bogus schemes):
- “[A] trust provides a way of legally and permanently ‘untaxing’ oneself so that a person is no longer required to file federal income tax returns and pay federal income taxes.” If a taxpayer places assets in a trust but retains control, or the ability to direct the use or enjoyment, of the assets, the taxpayer is treated as the owner of the assets for federal tax purposes and is liable for the tax on the income from those assets.
- “The filing of a tax return is voluntary.” Simply put, in the context of filing a tax return, “voluntary” does not mean “optional.” Filing a tax return is not optional for those who meet the minimum gross income requirements. The description of the U. S. tax system as “voluntary,” used in many court decisions and IRS publications, “refers to our system of allowing taxpayers initially to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns, rather than have the government determine tax for them from the outset” (which apparently is how it is done in some other countries). The “voluntary” nature of the tax system simply means that you, the taxpayer, determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate return, rather than have the government do this for you. The fact that the system involves self-reporting does not make the filing of a tax return (or the payment of tax) optional.
The guide also spells out in some detail the penalties for relying on one of these bogus schemes. If you are in doubt about whether the government is serious about this, check with Mr. Snipes.
I won’t ask if you have filed yet, because it’s too soon. I will encourage you, however, to file early (but not often).
Nathan B. Hannah is a Shareholder in the Tucson office, and practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, and commercial transactions. He is also a noted blogger, and you can find more of his articles on his private blog,
Contact Attorney Hannah: firstname.lastname@example.org or 520/ 322-5000
This communication is designed to bring legal developments of interest to the attention of our clients and others. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice in a particular matter. For further information on any of the subjects discussed, or for legal advice in connection with any particular matter, please contact us.