Many procrastinating South Floridians fear they owe federal taxes -- so they wait until the last week to file, tax preparers say.
About two-thirds of them end up writing a check to Uncle Sam or working out a payment plan, said Ingrid Ekblad, a manager at the nonprofit Hispanic Unity that provides free tax help.
"Thirty percent are pleasantly surprised," Ekblad estimated.
This year, her Hollywood agency, which is approved by the Internal Revenue Service to give free tax help, will help low- and moderate-income tax payers file returns up until 9 p.m. April 17 -- three hours before the midnight deadline --at its main office, 5811 Johnson St.
The group also will be at the West Regional Library in Plantation the day before.
This year procrastinating taxpayers get two extra days, as they did last year, because the usual deadline, April 15, falls on Sunday, and Monday is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.
Other nonprofit groups that also are part of the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly will provide free tax help throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties for anyone who makes about $50,000 or less, said Plantation IRS spokesman Michael Dobzinski. Most will finish their work by Saturday, Dobzinski said.
Taxpayers can call 800-906-9887 to find the closest free tax-preparation site or go to the IRS website at SunSentinel.com/irstaxhelp, he said.
Taxpayers can call the IRS' free hotline for general tax information at 800-829-1040, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Up to 20 percent of taxpayers still are working on their taxes, said Ekblad at Hispanic Unity.
"Each day we get near to the deadline, it gets busier," said Mark Daily, who owns several Jackson Hewitt Tax Services franchises in South Florida.
Some who have filed are getting smaller refund checks, Daily said. Unlike in 2009 and 2010, taxpayers aren't able to take the Making Work Pay credit off their 2011 federal income taxes -- $400 for singles and $800 for couples
Some South Florida filers didn't know they could qualify for generous programs such the American Opportunity tax credit that shaves off up to $2,500 in taxes for college tuition, fees, books and other materials, said Annabella Rodriguez, an H&R Block office manager in Weston.
Some students mistakenly thought they didn't qualify for the credit because they are paying for their college education with loans, Rodriguez said.
"You still get the credit if you borrow the money," Rodriguez said.
Students and disabled people may also not know they and their spouses can get tax credits for child and dependent care expenses, said Sheri Schultz, a Plantation accountant. Usually, couples both have to work to qualify for the child care credit, but the federal government gives an exception to students and the disabled, Schultz said.
Another overlooked tax break is a deduction that allows itemizing taxpayers to take 14 cents per mile for traveling to and from volunteer work, she added.
Taxpayers who itemize health care expenses can deduct travel expenses to and from their medical care -- 19 cents from Jan. 1 to June 30, 23.5 cents from July 1 to Dec. 31, Schultz said.
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