"Early" is a relative term in my house. To me, getting the taxes done early means that I didn't have to file an extension, and that my return was filed before midnight on April 15th. For example, a couple of years ago, I filed my taxes electronically and the time stamp on my filing was April 15th, 11:57 p.m. As I see it, my taxes were done 3 minutes early.
My wife doesn't see it that way. For her, "early" would mean filing the return on February 1, the same day that the last 1099 statement arrives in the mail. We have no agreement on either the meaning of this term "early," or on the appropriate level of urgency that ought to be sensed by the legal "head of household" when it comes to tax season. Tension mounts. Admittedly, my level of stress increases greatly as the Ides of April approaches; I know she's more right than I am.
The closer we get to April 15th, this stress I feel weighs heavily. By the 14th, my cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis happening in my personality. But this didn't happen this year, I got done early. One of my co-workers noted that he was surprised to see me in the office today, looking well. Not as surprised as I am. Or my wife for that matter.
However, I have to say that I am a bit sad that I will be missing one of the most enjoyable rituals and cultural phenomenons that happens between 11-12 p.m. each April 15th at a city's main post office. I've participated a few times before. This is an annual gathering of people with similar definitions of the word "early." This congregation of the pale and stressed-out arrives under pressure and strain, but leaves rejuvenated and hopeful. These are the people who know that the post office remains open until midnight, just for them, on this one special day.
You see, its not just a few people who are there to run in and drop off their returns in time for the April 15 postmark. Its thousands and thousands of people arriving all evening long. The post office in fact will take over an entire block just to handle the crowds. If you have your item stamped already, you don't even need to leave your car. Here in San Diego, for example, Postal employees have set up booths in every lane of Midway Blvd. going both ways to accommodate the streams of traffic. Its bigger than any sporting event. Some smart entrepreneurs are even selling bottled water, hot dogs, glow sticks, you name it. It's federally fun and festive!
This year, I am going to miss the camaraderie, the feeling of connectedness with my fellow early tax filers. If you've never seen this, you should go and just observe. Or sell pizza slices or something. It's truly and American experience.
Of course, the truth is, I know I should get my taxes done sooner. And I have far too much experience with just giving up and going down to the post office at midnight to mail off the Tax Extension form so that I can wait until midnight on October 15th to finish up.
These days, you can get an automatic six month extension for any reason, no questions asked (you still have to pay whatever you guess you might eventually owe on April 15th or suffer penalties and interest.) A few years ago, however, you would only get an automatic four month extension. If you wanted an additional two months, you had to send in another form by August 15th. On that form, you were required to give a good reason why you can't file your return. The IRS clearly stated that "I didn't get around to it" was not acceptable and would not qualify you for this extension, and your returns would be deemed officially "late."
One year, on August 15th, I didn't get around to it. What could I write in that blank?
I had nothing legitimate to write. So I wrote:
Reason for requesting an additional two month extension:
The IRS granted my request for the extension. No penalties.
I suppose this taxpayer is now legally considered to be a "moron." I also think some agent at the IRS has my Extension form on the wall of his cubicle just for fun.
Hope you get your taxes done early this year!