Tuesday, July 21, 2020
THAT WAS THE TAX SEASON THAT WAS 2020
My 49th tax filing season – I started as an apprentice tax preparer in February of 1972 preparing 1971 tax returns – was the only time I am aware that the initial filing deadline was extended, 6 months from April 15 to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taxpayers had until July 15 to file their 2019 returns and pay any tax due, and to make the first two quarterly 2020 estimated tax payments.
While the season officially ended July 15th, it ended July 14 for me. I never work the last day of the initial filing season (see here to learn why).
The big change in federal tax forms for 2019 returns was the return to sanity. The completely ridiculous “postcard” format of the 2018 return was gone! The 2019 Form 1040 was most definitely “more better” – and returned to a more logical flow of information.
There was a new Form 1040-SR for senior filers, created for no other reason than it was required by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was word-for-word and line-for-line exactly the same as the “regular” 2019 Form 1040 except it had bigger print and included a Standard Deduction chart.
The previously 6 supplemental schedules to the 1040 were reduced to 3. Schedule 2 and 4 were combined in the 2019 Schedule 2, Schedule 3 and 5 were combined in Schedule 3 for 2019, and the information previously reported on Schedule 6 was returned to the 1040. The 2019 Schedule 1, like 2018, reported additional income and adjustments to income, the 2019 Schedule 2 reported all additional taxes, and the 2019 Schedule 3 reported nonrefundable credits and other payments and refundable credits.
There were no auto, computer, equipment, or weather issues of consequence this season. And there were no real changes to tax law – except for the last-minute retroactive extension of the infamous “extenders”, which affected very few of my clients.
The excessive federal under-withholding FU from last season was not evident this year. In most cases the federal income tax withholding of my clients was fixed, I expect by clients requesting additional withholding. At the beginning of the year the IRS issued a totally new W-4 for 2020, doing away completely with the concept of “withholding allowances”. I will have to wait until next tax season to see if this new W-4 format caused any problems.
I have been working at home for more than a dozen years now – so the pandemic “stay at home” order issued at the end of March did not adversely affect my practice. To be perfectly honest, I was glad that I had a reason not to go anywhere – at least from late March through mid-April. I was also not financially impacted by the pandemic. Money continued, and continues, to come in, but much less was going out. My business and personal expenses were reduced.
I did miss my annual recuperative trip to the Jersey shore in April, and found that by June it was difficult to get motivated to continue to deal with 1040s and I had to battle a severe case of “manana disease
The biggest issue of this tax filing season for taxpayers was, and continues to be, the excessive IRS delay in issuing refunds on manually-filed federal income tax returns – which all my federal returns are. This was a federal issue only, as NJ refunds were issued to my clients relatively promptly. The IRS offices were closed from the end of March until the end of June. Nobody was opening the mail and processing manual returns, amended returns or correspondence during this period. When the offices re-opened there was a ton of unopened mail to deal with, including a substantial backlog of manual returns to process. The office closures also affected the IRS “Where’s My Refund” tool – the Service had no idea if a manual return was received, so clients could not check on their refund status here.
There was nothing I could do, or can do, to expediate the processing of a return or the issuance of a refund. And I had, and have, absolutely no idea when refunds would or will be issued, or any way of finding out.
To compensate for the delays the IRS announced that it will pay interest on refunds from April 15, 2020 to the date the check is issued.
There was a major processing change for my NJ returns this year. I was initially concerned when I learned that NJ did away with its NJWebFile system, which I had used to electronically submit many NJ state returns and request direct deposit of refunds in the past. I discovered that this was replaced with a new “New Jersey Online Income Tax Filing” system, which allowed me to electronically submit all 2019 NJ-1040s free of charge at the NJ Division of Taxation website without the need for separate email addresses and passwords for each return. The limitations of the old NJWebFile system no longer existed. And I could request direct deposit for all state refunds. I used this new system for almost every NJ return I submitted, except for some that had a balance due. Because I used this filing method my clients received their NJ refunds promptly.
I continued to use, and truly appreciate, the New York state “enhanced” fill-in forms, which did the math and calculated the tax for the IT-201 and IT-203. There were no issues with NY returns and no delays, that I was made aware of, for NY state refunds.
Despite the extended deadline I still ended the season with 7 GDEs (the “E” is for “extension”). I prepared about 16 less sets of tax returns this season. Some clients chose to move on to a new preparer in anticipation of my retirement after next year’s tax filing season. Some told me they were moving on and some did not. There were a handful of deaths, not unusual considering the age of many of my clients. (I was especially saddened by the 2020 passing of two long-time clients, originally of Jim Gill, one apparently related to COVID-19.) And, as announced this January, I no longer prepare the returns of the grown children of clients who do not live at home.
So that was the 2020 tax filing season. One more season to go before I officially “retire” – after having completed 50 tax filing seasons!