Stop Stalling: Taxes Are Due!

By Eileen AJ Connelly, AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — It may have seemed like you had all the time in the world to file your tax return after you got that six-month extension last April. But if you still haven't sent it in, there's no more stalling.

Thursday is the final deadline — and that does mean final — for filing in your 2008 return.

"This is it, do or die," said Bob Meighan, an accountant and vice president of Intuit Inc.'s TurboTax division. The only people who can skip the deadline are members of the military serving in combat zones and people affected by recent natural disasters.

The Internal Revenue Service said nearly 11 million people filed for extensions in the 2008 tax season. If you're one of those, and you don't file by Oct. 15, you'll start racking up penalties with the IRS right away.

It's a bigger mistake to skip filing than to file without paying money you owe, said Tom Ochsenschlager, vice president of tax at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Sending in your return without payment will save you late filing penalties — which can be up to 25%. And to figure out how much you owe, the IRS will file a substitute return for you, without claiming the deductions and credits you might be eligible for.

If you owe less than $25,000 and have no outstanding issues with the IRS, you may be able to pay in an installment plan. If you owe more, you'll have to work out an agreement. You'll still pay some penalties and interest, but the penalties are lower than those for not filing.

"The bottom line is file, even if you can't pay," Ochsenschlager said.

The rules for filing are the same as they are in April. The same deductions and credits that were available to taxpayers then — including the earned income tax credit and the first time homebuyer credit— can be claimed on a late return.

You can mail in a paper return or you can file electronically. The IRS's Free File program, which offers basic online tax preparation at no cost to people who earned $56,000 or less in 2008, is available until Thursday, and can be accessed through the agency's Web site.

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