We are now a week or so past what most of us U.S. citizens call Tax Day: April 15. In most years that is the day that most people file their 1040 forms. However, most folks who are older than me probably remember that April 15 has not always been Tax Day.
When I first filed my forms with the IRS, the Tax Day was the Ides of March, March 15. That was changed in 1955. There probably aren't many people alive who would remember that before 1918, filing was due on March 1.
When I was in school we learned that March 15, 44 BC was the day on which Julius Caesar was killed by Brutus and Cassius and others who attacked him when Julius was entering the Roman Senate. Julius had been warned earlier to, "beware the Ides of March," but ignored the warning by a seer. On the way to the Senate that day he again passed the seer to whom Julius supposedly said something like, "the Ides are here and I'm still alive." To that, the seer responded: "But the Ides are not yet over."
Before 44 BC, Brutus had opposed Julius, but after Brutus had been subjugated, Julius befriended him and solicited his advice. Julius then thought of Brutus as being a friend, hence there has been a bit of melodramatic license claiming that Julius' last words were, "Et, tu Brute?" (And you also Brutus?)
In 44 BC the month of March was the first month of the year and the Ides of March was a quasi-religious holiday marking the first full moon of the new year. Note that the months September, October, November, December have the first parts of their names corresponding to 7, 8, 9, 10. "Oct," for example, is the same root as the o-c-t in octet for a group of eight. What would have been the fifth and sixth months (July and August) were later named after Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar. Julius Caesar developed the calendar (Julian Calendar) that was used for about 2,000 years.
After Julius' assassination, Julius' adopted son Octavian rose to power and sought vengeance for Julius' death. Two years later in 42 BC as he was about to capture Brutus, Brutus committed suicide. For collectors of ancient coins, there is a coin produced by Brutus probably just before he and his group were defeated that has the inscription, "Eid Mar." Octavian later became known as Augustus.
To go back to the beginning of this column, April 15 is not always Tax Day. Sometimes Tax Day is on April 17 and sometimes on April 18. For example in 2016, Tax Day will be on April 18. That gives everyone three more days to file.
The reason for the variance is because of Emancipation Day which is a legal holiday in Washington, D.C. Emancipation Day marks the day (April 16, 1862) on which President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in Washington, D.C. The famous Emancipation Proclamation was not issued by President Lincoln until Jan. 1, 1863. The rest of the U.S. is affected by D.C.'s holiday because there is a law that says that official holidays celebrated in Washington, D.C. are also to be honored throughout the U.S.
Emancipation Day is to be held on April 16 if it is a weekday. If the 16th is on a weekend day, it is to be celebrated on the closest weekday. That means that if the 16th is on Saturday, the celebration is to be held on Friday. That makes the 17th a Sunday and so it is on Monday the 18th when Tax Day will occur. If the 16th is on a Sunday, Emancipation Day would be held on Monday the 17th and so Tax Day will once again be on the 18th since the 15th would have been on a weekend day (Saturday) which is not allowed. If the 15th is on a Sunday then Emancipation day would be Monday the 16th, so Tax Day would have to be Tuesday the 17th. All that clear now?
So did I file my 1040 by April 15? Nooo. I am a very bad procrastinator and somehow I seldom manage to be able to make that deadline. I think I did meet it in a couple of years in the past decade. For procrastinators like me, they have a form 4868 called the Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Of course that also means you don't have your state tax return complete either.
I didn't want to get any of you out there into my bad habits so I didn't mention this before your April 15 Tax Day. It really is a very bad idea to ask for the extension.
You really have to do most of the calculations anyway as the extension form asks what your estimated tax liability will be. Then you need to have what your payments (withholding, etc.) have been. If your payments are less than what you think you owe, then you need to pay that right away otherwise you will incur a very stiff penalty. How do you make sure you avoid that penalty? One way is to overpay now so you won't owe more when you actually file.
The new tax deadline for the automatic extension is Oct. 15, my new Tax Day. So filing for the extension probably means letting the government have your money for an extra six months - months when those dollars could have been invested to make a little more in interest for yourself. The trick is to have always come as close as possible in withholding to what you will actually owe.
I could file anytime now when I finish my taxes, but I will probably take the entire extra six months and worry about completing the forms on, say Oct. 13 or 14.
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!