Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Uncle Sam wont pay you till you pay him

Life and Money
by: KATIE HARTLEY, AARP Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Broderick was at Lloyd Center last week helping seniors and low- and middle-income earners with their taxes. The free help still is available today at Lloyd Center and two other locations.

This won't hurt too much.

Or at least it probably won't.

But it's got to happen today. For those of you who have delayed and delayed and made excuses and lost receipts and figured you'd repaint the ceiling of your garage one more time instead, it's April 15.

Tax Day. You've got until midnight tonight.

But it's different this year - because the federal government is itching to give you some money.

As soon as you file your tax return.

Those special recession-fighting stimulus payments Congress approved for most Americans a couple of months ago are just gathering dust in some federal vault someplace. Your payment can be on its way after you file your tax return.

There are other reasons to file your return, of course - including picky legal ones. And there are other things to keep in mind when you do. We'll get to that in a minute.

But the stimulus payments are the most pleasant topic surrounding Tax Day this year. So let's start with them:

• Take the money.

Most adults will get $600 in stimulus payments ($1,200 for married couples), and parents will receive an additional $300 for each dependent child younger than 17. The payments phase out for individuals with adjusted gross income over $75,000 and married couples with adjusted gross income over $150,000. (If you want to see exactly what you're going to get, the Internal Revenue Service has a handy calculator at www.irs.gov/app/espc/.)

People who elected direct deposit on their 2007 tax form should get the stimulus payment into their bank account sometime next month. People who want a check instead probably will get it sometime from late May through July.

But the federal government figures out what you get based on your 2007 tax return, due today. If you file for an extension - which means you don't have to complete the full tax return until August 15 - then you won't be getting your stimulus payment next month or in June or July, but will be put at the back of the line. And you can hope to get it maybe by Christmas.

So it might be worthwhile to forget about an extension, just this time.

And even those who don't need to file a tax return - who didn't make enough money last year - should be filing a tax return this year, because many of those people are eligible for a stimulus payment. Congress decided anyone who has a 'qualifying income' of at least $3,000 should get a payment.

• File electronically, and use direct deposit to have the money put into your checking account.

It's not as complicated as you might think. And it means you get your tax refund much more quickly - sometimes in days rather than weeks or months.

If you had adjusted gross income in 2007 of $54,000 or less and have a computer with Internet access, you can use Free File services available through the IRS Web site. The Web-based services allow you to complete your taxes online by answering a series of questions and entering basic information. The services then allow you to file your return electronically.

If you had adjusted gross income greater than $54,000 last year, the IRS Web site still can help you access tax filing services that cost as little as $10.

If you don't have a computer, or access to the Internet, you can still file electronically - and can get help to do it. The American Association of Retired Persons, for instance, organizes local volunteers to provide a free tax aid service to low- and middle-income people and the elderly.

Bill Ensign, a retired former Forest Service accountant, helps coordinate 27 of the 50 AARP centers operating in the Portland area - some that operate by appointment and some where people can walk in and wait for help.

There can be a wait any time in April, but 'the majority of people are so thankful,' Ensign says. 'They just can't thank you enough.'

There are three AARP tax aid walk-in centers open today - on the third floor of the Lloyd Center (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.); at Peace Lutheran Church, 2201 N. Rosa Parks Way (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); and at the Hillsboro main library, 2850 N.E. Brookwood Parkway (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

• File an extension if you must, but don't expect a break.

You can file an extension and delay completing your full return until Aug. 15. But that's not going to help your bank account much: The IRS requires you to pay your estimated tax liability by April 15, even with the extension.

About one in eight of Oregon's 1.6 million taxpayers asked for the four-month extension in filing their tax return last year, IRS spokesman Bill Steiner said, a percentage that seldom changes.

And Portland? Well, we're on a top 20 list again.

In its annual list, the makers of TurboTax recently named Portland 18 on the 'Most Tax Procrastinating Cities in America List.' The list was based on people using the TurboTax online service to file for an online extension last year.

No. 1 on the list: Chicago.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.