Tax Day is almost upon us.
One of the most notable non-holidays on the U.S. annual calendar, Tax Day (yes, it's capitalized by historians) falls on Monday, April 15, this year.
Tax Day by State
Technically, Tax Day celebrates two American mainstays in some U.S. states this year, even though Americans aren't exactly thrilled about one of those "traditions."
Tax Day. Tax Day is the formal deadline Americans' individual tax returns are due. Uncle Sam does give taxpayers some leniency. If Tax Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, or on a state holiday (as in the case of Massachusetts and Maine), Tax Day is moved back to the following business day (in this case, Tuesday, April 16.)
Patriots Day. This public holiday is the reason why residents of Massachusetts and Maine sometimes get an extra day to file their taxes. Patriots Day is celebrated on the third Monday of April each year in both states; in 2019, that day happened to fall on April 15.
Other jurisdictions run into timing conflicts on Tax Day, too.
In 2018, for example, the District of Columbia's annual Emancipation Day, which celebrates President Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves in 1863, fell on a Monday. That pushed Tax Day back to the next day (Tuesday) in 2018.
The flexibility factor on Tax Day comes from Section 7503 of the IRS Tax Code, which notes that in the years when April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, a tax return is deemed as "on time" if it's filed at the end of the next business day by midnight.
There are other caveats, as well. It doesn't happen much, but if a severe weather crisis developed, like a major snowstorm in New England or a major wildfire in California, the IRS does have the latitude to push Tax Day back a day or two. But that's where Uncle Sam's goodwill ends.
Tax Day, itself, doesn't allow for the usual holiday perks, like a day off from school or work, although all U.S. postal offices are open until midnight to accommodate those up-to-the-minute, snail mail tax filers looking to get their returns into the mail on time.
Digital tax filers just need to hit "send" before the clock strikes midnight on Tax Day to get their returns in on deadline.
Tax Day History
Even for a day that is not a legal federal holiday, Tax Day does have a pedigree equal to at least some of the nation's midlevel holidays like Presidents Day or Arbor Day.
Tax Day is traceable back to 1861, when the U.S. Civil War shifted into higher (and bloodier) gear, when Abraham Lincoln was ensconced in the White House, and when the income tax was first levied on the American populace.
At initial blush, the first income tax didn't amount to much. The federal government, through the newly installed Internal Revenue Service, levied a tax of 3% for American households with incomes over $800, with the additional revenue going to fund the North's ongoing war effort against the Confederate states.
Even then, U.S. taxpayers raged against the tax, and 11 years later, the tax was ruled unconstitutional and was rescinded by Congress in 1872.
It wasn't until 1894 that the idea of an income tax rose again in Congress, clearing passage that year as a 2% tax, as part of the Revenue Act of 1894. The tax remained in place for two decades, until the U.S. Constitution was ratified (as the 16th Amendment) that allowed for a nationwide income tax with oversight by the Internal Revenue Service.
The origins of Tax Day as a day to be reckoned with the U.S. citizenry date back to 1913, when the first Tax Day occurred on March 1. Five years later, Tax Day was moved to March 15, and by 1955, Tax Day was assigned its current date of April 15.
The movements of those dates were no coincidence. As few Americans responded to the call for income tax payments, the federal government had difficulty collecting taxes. Historians note that Americans felt they didn't have enough time in the New Year to prepare their returns.
To appease the populace, The Revenue Act of 1918 passed by Congress, moved the Tax Day deadline back 15 days, even as it moved aggressively to collect more tax revenues as the Act pegged a tax rate of 77% on the nation's highest income earners.
The IRS grew in power and was collecting more taxes every year. By 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower tasked Congress to change the tax code once again. Congress did so, adding more credit, deductions and mandates to the U.S. tax structure -- and changing Tax Day in 1955 to April 15, where it stands today.
More or less, that's the model used today by the IRS, 64 years later.
Important Tax Dates in 2020
April 15 isn't the only tax date of note in 2020.
Whether you're an individual taxpayer or a business owner, these deadline dates matter to Uncle Sam - so they should matter to you, too.
April 15 -- deadline for 2019 tax returns
Oct. 15 -- Extension deadline to file 2019 tax returns
Dec. 31 -- Date that flips 2019 tax year to 2020 (at midnight.)
If you pay taxes quarterly, such as if you are self-employed, those approximate due dates this year are April 15, June 15 and Sept. 15.
Last-Minute Tax Day Filing Tips
- File digitally. Save time, money and stress by filing online on Tax Day. The IRS recommends it and points out that electronic tax return submissions actually have fewer errors, so you're filing a more accurate return, too. You'll get your tax refunds faster, too.
- If you owe money but don't have it, ask for a payment plan. Uncle Sam has become much more flexible about paying taxes. So, if you owe on your tax returns and can't afford the total amount, ask for an installment agreement using Tax Form 9465 (or, ask a tax specialist for help.) Chances are very good you'll get the agreement and take some anxiety out of having to pay a higher tax bill.
- Ask for an extension. If you're unable to file your tax returns, for whatever reason, it's perfectly acceptable to file for an extension, which gives you until Oct. 15 to file your taxes. You'll still have to pay any money you owe (see above) but you'll have extra time to get your taxes right. Use IRS Tax Form 4868 to get an extension.
- Make an IRA contribution. Tax filers can easily make an IRA contribution right up to the IRS tax filing deadline. The amount contributed might reduce your taxable income (depending on which type of IRA you choose and how much money you make). For 2018, the maximum IRA contribution is $5,500, with a $1,000 "catch-up" amount for Americans over the age of 50.
- Check your return before filing. Always review your tax returns before filing. Ideally, have a tax professional look at your return for you. Some extra review time now can save you major headaches later on.