Do you know what Emancipation Day is? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Rather than a federal holiday, it’s actual observed in Washington, DC, and honors the emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia. I’m sure the history buffs out there are crying foul – after all, didn’t President Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation effectively ending slavery in the United States in January 1863? Yes, he did: however, he’d signed a similar law ending slavery in our nation’s Capital a full nine months earlier, in April of 1962.
Now that you know the history of Emancipation Day, you’re probably thinking: what on earth does this regional holiday have to do with my taxes? This year, a whole lot.
Because Emancipation Day – officially April 16th – falls on a Monday this year, pushing back the filing deadline to Tuesday, April 17th. Federal tax law requires that the IRS honor legal holidays in DC, even though the rest of the company doesn’t celebrate it – and, most likely, doesn’t know the background behind it (but thanks to my brief history lesson, you’re no longer a part of that latter segment of the population).
If you’re one of the nearly one in five taxpayers who’s waited until the last minute to file your taxes, you’ve already missed out on many of the perks of filing early, including:
- Getting your refund earlier. The IRS usually gets refunds out within six to eight weeks – and as little as eight days if you e-file – but often experiences a backlog after tax due day, resulting in a delay
- Having a chance to double-check your tax forms. This is especially critical if you do your own taxes and aren’t quite sure of what you’re doing
- Time to pay your tax bill. It’s a misnomer that you can delay paying that bill by filing an extension 4868 form. In fact, that’s totally wrong; filing a 4868 form only delays when you have to file your tax forms, not when you have to pay your bill
Procrastinating leading up to the filing deadline forces you to act quickly and decisively at this point. It’s crucial that you have all your paperwork together – that means all your receipts, W-2 or 1099 forms, your 1040/Schedule A if you’ll be itemizing, your mortgage interest form from your lender, and any other pertinent documents need to be in order. You’ll also need a plan of attack as to who is going to help you file your taxes: will you go to a CPA? A tax service like Jackson Hewitt or H&R Block? Will you do them yourself? If you plan to pay someone, make sure you set up an appointment in advance, so you don’t find yourself left out in the cold. And finally, plot how you’ll get that all important postmark before the clock strikes midnight on the morning of April 18th, lest your tax forms turn into a pumpkin a la Cinderella. The days of your local post office staying open late are long gone, as the USPS has largely eliminated those after-hours collection sites to cut costs.