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Late filers scramble to meet tax deadline

Procrastinators nationwide will be scrambling this weekend tomeet with tax preparers to mail in their tax returns beforeMonday’s deadline.

“We’ve been busy this week with everyone waiting until the lastminute,” said Noelle Bloodsworth, office manager at Brookhaven’sJackson Hewitt Tax Service. “A lot of people have scheduledappointments through the weekend.”

This year’s April 15 tax deadline falls on Saturday, so filershave until Monday to send in their returns, said Kathy Waterbury,director of communications for the Mississippi Tax Commission.Returns postmarked after Monday are subject to fines and penaltiesfor late filing.

However, many residents of south Mississippi qualify for anautomatic three-month extension offered to those who sustaineddamage from Hurricane Katrina.

“They don’t have to notify us now if they’re taking advantage ofthat extension, but they do have to notify us on the return,”Waterbury said. “They need to identify themselves as needing theadditional time because of the storm.”

HURRICANE KATRINA should be written in large letters on the topof returns in blue or black ink on state forms and red on federalreturns to take advantage of the automatic extension, she said.

“The difference in ink colors is very important because we haveequipment that reads the forms differently,” Waterbury said.

People with coastal addresses automatically qualify for thefiling extension to Aug. 28. Addresses from areas more inland mustshow that they sustained some damage.

“We will follow federal guidelines on calculating casualtyloss,” Waterbury said.

She defined casualty loss as the cost of repairs to a home orreplacement of its contents less any insurance or Federal EmergencyManagement Agency reimbursements.

“That’s a very simple version of how you calculate casualtyloss,” Waterbury said. “One reason it’s taking some people so longis that information is difficult to compile.”

The fair market value of a home and its contents can bedifficult to determine when all the documents pertaining to thathome were also lost, she said.

“We have a lot of evacuees here who haven’t been able to get alltheir information,” Bloodsworth said.

The easiest way to file and the quickest way to get refunds isto file electronically, even with the unusual circumstances of thehurricane, Waterbury said. The online tax form will promptresidents of areas in the hurricane zone when disaster informationcould affect the return.

Both the state tax commission’s Web site at www.mstc.state.ms.usand the federal Internal Revenue Service at irs.gov have a lot ofinformation and a special link on filing in the hurricane zone,Waterbury said. Information on the sites includes how to recreatesome documents that may have been lost in the storm.