The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 13, 2013

Ashtabula County tax preparers adjust to law changes

Star Beacon

— The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) has pushed back the income tax filing season leaving taxpayers and accountants spinning their wheels.

“The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) is not going to receive returns until Jan. 30,” said accountant Tom Belnap of Conneaut.

Belnap and other area tax preparers are doing all the footwork prior to the actual filing date.

“The vast majority of tax filers, more than 120 million households, should be able to start filing returns starting Jan. 30,” according to information available on the IRS website.

Belnap said the Jan. 2 passage of the ATRA did cause an impact for some people. “The thing I am sensitive to is people who depend on tax refunds to get by,” he said.

Tax preparers have been testing new software in preparation for the Jan. 30 filing date.

“We are calling all our clients and telling them to bring in their (paperwork),” said Cheryl Josson, general manager of Liberty Tax Service on Route 20 in Ashtabula.

Josson said the larger tax companies will begin “batch testing” on Jan. 21 and then the returns will officially be filed on Jan. 30.

“The fact that it is Jan. 30 isn’t too bad,” Josson said.

The reason for the original delay was due to the change in security procedures. “They’ve installed some new security measures to find identity theft,” Josson said.

“We’re ready to go and our doors are open,” she said of the importance of taxpayers starting the process to make sure their refunds arrive as soon as possible.

Last year tax returns were deposited in accounts within eight to 15 days. “Now they are saying eight to 21 days,” Josson said.

Josson said if the detail work is completed ahead of time, customers can complete the process with a short visit closer to filing time. “All they (customers) have to do is come in and sign and be out in five minutes,” she said.

Doug Haines, a certified public accountant in Ashtabula, said his business has been about normal and clients have not been calling with a lot of questions.

He said his clientele likes refunds, but aren’t usually desperate for a quick return.

“I’ve seen no impact on my business, whatsoever,” Haines said.

“The big change comes next year,” he said of some of the changes that will affect people making more than $400,000 a year.

Jeff Piotrowski, a certified public accountant in Geneva, said the late changes to tax laws the last several years becomes a real issue for those preparing taxes.

“You can’t give them (customers) a direct answer. Congress has made it very difficult for us to give advice,” he said of the end of 2012 when people were trying to decide whether to defer income or put money in an IRA.

He said many people like to file early (usually people with one W-2 form and no complex deductions) and that won’t happen this year. “A lot of them like that big chunk of money in January,” Piotrowski said.

The IRS estimates that remaining households will be able to start filing in late February or early March because of form changes effecting people who are claiming residential energy credits or depreciation of property to name a few.

“While the IRS worked to anticipate the late tax law changes as much as possible, the final law required that the IRS update forms and instructions as well as make critical processing system adjustments before it can begin accepting tax returns, said IRS Acing Commissioner Steven T. Miller on the IRS website.