Legislation affects tax returns

Local tax preparers are gearing up for changes to the federal income tax system created by the passage of this year’s fiscal cliff legislation.

The most evident change that’s taking place is the date people can first begin filing their income tax forms – it has been pushed back to Jan. 31. This altered date was created to give the IRS time to reflect legislation in updated tax forms, said Shirley Hyson, owner of Elkins H&R Block, who said employees in her office are noticing the legislation’s effect.

“Normally, we started filing returns the second week in January,” she said. Now, employees are still waiting to receive all versions of their blank tax forms.

Hyson said she is able to work with customers to collect necessary tax information, but forms cannot be filled out until they arrive, and completed forms won’t be accepted until the end of the month.

One other effect that legislation is having on citizens is the increased amount of time the IRS will take to mail refunds. Hyson said delivery time, in the past, was one to two weeks – now, refunds won’t be mailed for up to 21 days.

The combined effect of these date changes, Hyson said, is that people won’t be receiving their refunds until much later in the year.

Last year, it was possible to file in early January and receive a refund by early February. This year, similar early receipts will not be possible.

H&R Block offers professional tax services throughout the year and may be contacted by phone at 304-636-7795.

Tax help is also available through AARP-supported services at the Elkins and Buckhannon Senior centers.

Don Neiman, a tax preparer with the AARP – who offers free tax help for people with low incomes or individuals who are at least 60 years old – spoke to The Inter-Mountain about tax credits and exemptions that were extended through this tax year. Neiman noted that the legislation has included some positive provisions, despite the date changes.

“(The IRS) has increased things like the dollar amount for exemptions,” Neiman said.

For instance, the 2012 standard deduction has been raised $150, from last year, up to $5,950.

Other standard deductions, such as head of household, married filing jointly and qualified widow(er), have also been increased, he said.

Neiman also mentioned that legislation has extended some deductions that were scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. These include IRA distributions for charitable purposes, the educator expense adjustment, tuition-related adjustments, mortgage insurance premium deductions and state/local sales tax deductions.

He said the extended filing dates shouldn’t hit people too hard.

“Most folks don’t typically get tax forms from their employer until late in January,” he said.

This means that most people, in previous years, weren’t able to file until the current deadline. He said this knowledge should lessen the perceived impact that the date changes may create.

Tax help is offered by Neiman and others, at the Elkins Senior Center every Monday and Thursday, beginning Feb. 4. They can be contacted by phone at 304-636-4747. They will be at the Buckhannon Senior Center every Wednesday and can be reached at 304-472-0528.

Catholic Charities, in Elkins, also offers tax help to those with low incomes.

Regional Director Cindy Hammer said the extended dates are allowing Catholic Charities officials additional time to get ready.

“It gave us extra time to prepare,” Hammer said about the legislative changes.

Similar to the Elkins Senior Center, Catholic Charities works in conjunction with the AARP to offer tax assistance.

Hammer said Catholic Charities provides office space for AARP volunteers.

“(The service) is totally free and volunteer driven,” she said.

Unfortunately, Hammer said, this year she doesn’t yet have volunteers to provide tax help.

She said the charity is working with Davis & Elkins College to recruit students who may be interested.

Catholic Charities may be reached by calling 304-636-4875.