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Sorry, Tax Procrastinators: Most Accountants Are Already Booked

taxIf you haven’t hired a tax pro by now, you may be out of luck.

This year, tax returns and taxes are due April 18, meaning Tax Day is officially three weeks away.

That may still feel like plenty of time to file your tax returns – and it is if you have a simple return. But some people may feel overwhelmed after facing an all new tax situation this year. Maybe you bought your first rental property last year and need help figuring out how to report the new income or write off certain expenses. Going through a major life change, such as a marriage or a divorce, may open the door to a new slew of tax returns.

Whatever your situation, the reality is that many accountants are swamped in the final weeks of the filing season finishing up paperwork for returns they’ve already started, tax pros say.

“Unfortunately, at this point your options are kind of limited,” said John Ams, a tax attorney and executive vice president for the National Society of Accountants. Some accountants are no longer taking new clients. And if they are, they may only have enough time to help people file for an extension, which buys them more time to get their paperwork in order.

That doesn’t mean you should wait until after the tax deadline to seek help, says Donald Zidik, an accountant with Marcum LLP in Needham, Mass. A tax pro may still be able to help you get started with other processes that need to be completed by the tax deadline, such as IRA contributions, he says.

Filing an extension can give you more time to prepare your tax return without having to rush – but it doesn’t push back the deadline for taxes owed. If you’re not sure whether you’ll owe the IRS or your state this year, your accountant may be able to help you come up with an estimate based on how much income you earned and what you think your deductions will be, says Troy Lewis, chairman of the tax executive committee for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. (If you’re not sure about the amount, it may be smart to round up and pay a little extra.)

To be sure, some people with fairly straightforward questions may be able to get the assistance they need by turning to a commercial tax preparer, such as someone at H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. Some H&R Block locations will begin to offer extended hours over the next several weeks as we get closer to the deadline. And some people using online tax software such as TurboTax may find the answers they need by chatting with a representative online.

But people who want more detailed guidance from an accountant may be better off requesting an extension. After paying an estimate for taxes owed, they can sit down with their accountants later on in the spring to complete all of the necessary forms without having to rush, Lewis says.

And if you do get in the door over the next couple of weeks, make sure to bring all the paperwork you might need. There might not be enough time for you to come back a second time. “You’re competing for the tax preparer’s time,” Ams said. “And there’s only so many hours in a day.”

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jonnelle Marte

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