Tax Returns Must Be Filed By April 15, but Do Not Have to Be Paid until July.

United States tax payers who owe less than $1,000,000.00 in federal income taxes for 2019 still have to file their returns on time, but they can wait until July 15, 2020 to pay them. Taxpayers expecting refunds can still file on time or early and, at least in theory, will receive their refund in the usual time period.   

On March 13, 2020, the President of the United States issued an emergency declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in response to the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The Emergency Declaration included a provision for there to be “relief from tax deadlines to Americans who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency.” 26 U.S.C. 7508A(a).

Section 7508A provides the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate (Secretary) with authority to postpone the time for filing returns under the internal revenue laws for a taxpayer determined by the Secretary to be affected by a federally declared disaster.  Previously the IRS has granted this relief to taxpayers in specific areas affected by natural disasters.

Individuals, partnerships, and S corporations, may defer up to $1,000,000.00 in payments until July 15, 2020.  This relief applies in aggregate, and cannot be multiplied. Married Couples filing jointly may defer up to $1,000,000.00 for the couple (and not $2,000,000.00).  The self-employed can defer a total of $1,000,000.00 for both the 2019 taxes and the 2020 self-employment tax estimate.   Large corporations organized as “C” taxpayers and the related corporations which file the same return, the deferred amount may be up to $10,000,000.00.  If a tax payer owes more than $1,000,000.00 for 2019, interest and penalties will accrue on the portion due above $1,000,000.00

The deferment applies only to federal income tax. It does not apply to estate taxes, gift taxes, payroll taxes or any other federal tax.   Nor does it apply to state taxes.

The Treasury notice stated that Affected Taxpayers subject to penalties or additions to tax despite this relief may be granted by reasonable cause relief under section 6651 for a failure to pay tax or seek a waiver to a penalty under section 6654 for a failure by an individual or certain trusts and estates to pay estimated income tax, as applicable.  Normally, under Treas. Reg. § 301.6651-1(c) (1), even when a taxpayer shows undue hardship, the regulations require proof of the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence.  It is unclear whether the Treasury Department’s reference to the relief theoretically available under 6651 is an indication that it will relax the standards for granting such relief (which is usually not granted).