Getting answers to the many tax questions that the Gulf hurricanes have wrought is frustrating. Questions about evacuation expenses, property losses deductions, and gains resulting from insurance settlements, are still needing answers for many taxpayers in the disaster areas. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that taxpayers are seeing the preparation of this year’s as the most difficult in years, with accounting and tax preparation firms in the same boat.
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Lonnie Stockwell, managing director of the New Orleans office of the accounting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “We believe there are many unanswered questions as answered questions.” “There are all kind of issues and opportunities brought on by the relief from Congress,” said Scott Thomas, director of taxes for Ernst & Young in New Orleans.
Congress passed the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act in September 2005, to help victims of the storm and the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act was passed in December 2005, to help businesses. Ted Stacey, director of tax services at Bourgeois Bennett in Metairie, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “We are really dreading this tax season.”
Postal service delays in getting tax booklets to filers in the disaster areas are also causing problems. The fact that the taxpayers moved without forwarding addresses has not helped either. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana tax booklets have been late because of changes made by the legislature late last year.
On February 10th, the IRS amended the deadlines for filers living in the affected areas of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Those amending their 2004 returns to claim unreimbursed losses now have until October 16 2006, while those filing tax year 2005 returns have until April 17th, like the rest of us. Those in the hurricane-affected areas must write the name of the hurricane on the top of their tax forms, according to the Associated Press.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a new publication to help individual and business filers who are also victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, or Wilma. Review Publication 4492, Information for Taxpayers Affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma for further information. The publication is listed on an IRS web page titled Help for Hurricane Victims: Information on Tax Relief, Charitable Issues showing all IRS resources for both hurricane victims and tax professionals, as well as relief donations links and federal government hurricane-related web sites. The IRS has set up a special assistance number (1-866-562-5227) to assist hurricane victims.
Even taxpayers not affected by the Gulf hurricanes may find the complexity of preparing their taxes this year a daunting task. Paul Gada, author of the 432-page book CCH Toolkit Tax Guide 2006, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “The tax code now is filled with regulations that not only adjust for inflation but phase in or phase out at different points, making tax planning impossible unless you have a clear roadmap of the rules and understand them.” Gada’s book is available at bookstores and online.