- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2001

We are a nation of procrastinators, and tax time bears that out.

More than 40 percent of us wait until the last week before filing taxes, even though about 75 percent of us expect a refund, according to the National Taxpayers Union.

Pete Sepp, the NTU's vice president for communications, argues that the tax paperwork burden has become so overwhelming that a majority of us put off our civic duty as long as possible.

Even though he is supposed to have a level of literacy about the tax system, Mr. Sepp confesses that recently, even he bungled calculations as he worked through a dummy form for a reporter.

"The burden of filing taxes is becoming as big a problem as the burden of actually paying them," Mr. Sepp says.

An estimated 40 million tax returns will be filed across America today, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Thousands of post offices will extend hours, and some will stay open until midnight.

Deborah Yackley, spokeswoman for D.C.-area post offices, says postal employees go the extra mile on tax day, working extra hours and standing outside to collect returns as cars drive up to the post office parking lots.

At the area's largest collection center in Merrifield, police are called in each year to direct the heavy volume of traffic. At post offices in Brentwood and Silver Spring, two radio stations will broadcast live today, giving away prizes and lightening the mood.

"They try to make it a little more pleasant for those people who have to pay this year," Miss Yackley said. Some taxpayers go the extra mile, making a party out of paying Uncle Sam.

"We have crazy people who show up in a limousine every year to drop off their taxes, just to be cute," she said.

Others dash breathlessly into the post office, W-2 forms in hand, and proceed to do their taxes standing at the counter, even as the clock ticks toward midnight.

"It's become a tradition. They don't want to pay that money until the very last minute people that owe," she says. "Maybe they are filing the short form."

In Bethesda, hairstylist Dee Dee Maisel admits that not only has she not made any progress on her 2000 return, she has yet to file her 1999 taxes. This year, she'll seek an extension with the help of a friend who has promised to bring her up to date.

"I'm a complete slacker, but I'm not losing sleep over it at night," said Miss Maisel, 33.

She fears no audit. "They owe me, so why would they bother me if they owe me money?"

This year, for the first time, Americans can get an extension by making a phone call, rather than mailing off a request. To file Form 4868, taxpayers can call toll-free at 888/796-1074. Other information such as tax tables, and details on such topics as earned income tax credits and educational financial aid can be found on the IRS' Web site at www.irs.ustreas.gov.

As of April 6, 77 million American had filed returns and 68.3 million had received refunds, according to the most recent records tallied by the IRS.

The average refund came to $1,740.

More than 35 million taxpayers filed returns electronically in 2000 and about 42 million are expected to do so this year. The IRS has allowed taxpayers to file electronically for 16 years.

At the NTU, a report released Friday found that the average taxpayer spends about 27 hours filing the standard 1040 tax form. The 1040EZ, a shorter version for those whose tax filings are not complex, requires 96 percent more time to complete than it did 10 years ago, the NTU said.

In total, American spend 6 billion hours on tax forms and record keeping, and all of their hard work accounts for 82 percent of the federal government's paperwork burden.

The NTU, which counts 300,000 members nationwide, wants the federal government to make taxes less complicated.

President Bush, who has called for tax cuts, has persuaded nearly half of all Americans to support his plan, according to a poll released last week by the Associated Press.

The AP survey found that most think their taxes are too high, but they are not in agreement with what to do about it. They are also evenly divided on across-the-board tax cuts, as Mr. Bush wants, or giving cuts to those with low and middle incomes.

As Congress prepares to debate the tax issue, and Mr. Bush uses today to hawk his tax-relief program, the NTU continues to fight for a major revamping of the IRS code.

"The packaging of this system has become so unattractive to most people that something entirely new must be developed," Mr. Sepp said.

Four out of five Americans use a computer or a tax preparer to help them figure out their taxes, he said.

"If that isn't an indictment of the complexity of the code, nothing is."

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