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Revised tax deadlines: Jan. 15 for some disaster-affected 2019 returns, March 1 for Mississippi hurricane victims

Flipping calendar pages

I'm feeling a bit like the Internal Revenue Service's appointments secretary, but this Friday, Jan. 15, is a date when many taxpayers need to take action.

Yes, I'm talking about the fourth estimated tax payment due at the end of this week, but also about some final tax year 2019 housekeeping.

Specifically, individuals and businesses who were in the paths of some major disasters last year. The timing of those catastrophes prompted the IRS to give taxpayers who had already filed for an extension to finish their 2019 tax returns until Jan. 15, 2021, to complete them.

These folks now are facing that deadline. They are taxpayers affected by wildfires in parts of California and Oregon and those residents in parts of Alabama where Hurricane Sally did major damage.

If you're among this group and still havening finished your 2019 tax return, do so by Jan. 15. If you miss this date, then the IRS will start assessing late filing and late payment penalties.

More relief for historic hurricane season: And now, another group of disaster survivors is getting some 2020 tax filing relief.

2020_Atlantic_hurricane_season_summary_map_Wikipedia-NASA-NHC-3
Tracks of all tropical cyclones in the historic 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Created using WikiProject Tropical cyclones/Tracks. The background image is from NASA, with tracking data from the National Hurricane Center.

Mississippi taxpayers who were in the path Hurricane Zeta, the 27th of a record high 30 named Atlantic tropical systems last year, now have until March 1 to meet a variety of individual and business tax responsibilities.

The Magnolia State counties deemed major disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone.

The IRS says that individuals who live in these areas or who have businesses in them get a bit more time to file tax forms and make required tax payments that otherwise would have been due on or after Oct. 28, 2020. That's when Zeta struck Mississippi.

For many individual taxpayers, the most immediate concern is the Jan. 15 estimated tax deadline. The Mississippi filers now have until March 1 to make that final 1040-ES payment for the 2020 tax year.

That March 1 due date also applies to the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns that hurricane-affected businesses normally would have filed on Nov. 2, 2020, and again face this coming Feb. 1.

No special action needed: As with other major disaster situations, Zeta-affected Mississippi taxpayers don't need to take special steps to get this tax relief.

Filing and penalty relief is automatic for anyone with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. If, however, an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS regarding an action falling within the disaster postponement period, they should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

The IRS also will work with taxpayers who don't live in the official disaster areas, but whose records necessary to meet a deadline during the postponement period are located in the affected area. In these cases, call the IRS at (866) 562-5227.

The IRS also knows that in times of disaster, many people from across the United States head to the stricken areas to help, meaning that their own tax responsibilities are put on hold. Any workers who assisted Hurricane Zeta relief efforts in the designated FEMA disaster counties as part of a recognized government or philanthropic organization get the same tax relief as those directly affected by the storm.

And if FEMA later adds more areas to this Mississippi disaster, individuals and businesses in those locales will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

More major disaster relief: Now is where I resign my ad hoc IRS appointments secretary position and resume my tax blogging role. And when it comes to blogging about disasters, even I, an unabashed weather nut, have gotten way too much practice.

But once again, I must remind anyone who has been or might one day be in the path of a rampaging Mother Nature that you could possibly get some additional tax relief beyond just extended filing deadlines.

If you're in an area that FEMA designates as a major disaster, you might be able to claim your uninsured disaster losses on your taxes.

You also get the option to claim them on either the return for the actual tax year the loss occurred or the prior tax year. In picking your filing year, the key is to determine which tax year will provide you with a better tax result, generally a lower tax liability or larger refund.

That means folks affected by Hurricane Zeta and all of last year's many other major disasters could claim those losses on their 2020 returns they'll file this year or on their 2019 returns.

FEMA Mississippi disaster 4576

To claim the disaster damages on your already-filed 2019 Form 1040, you'll need to file an amended return, which you now can do electronically.

Regardless of when you do claim any losses from a major disaster, the IRS to note "Mississippi - Hurricane Zeta" in bold letters at the top of the form. Also include the FEMA declaration number on your tax return. For Hurricane Zeta tax claims by Mississippi filers, that's #4576.

If you need to get full copies of previously filed tax returns to facilitate your disaster-related filing, the IRS will waive the fees it usually charges for such requests. Just put the disaster designation "Mississippi - Hurricane Zeta" in bold letters at the top of the Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return that you submit to the IRS.

Additional information and help: You can get more on the Mississippi/Hurricane Zeta tax relief in the IRS announcement. FEMA updates on this disaster and assistance links are posted on that agency's Mississippi Hurricane Zeta (DR-4576-MS) web page.  

IRS Publication 547 has more general information on making disaster loss claims. You also can find disaster tax tips, ranging from preparation steps to recovery options to how to help those in need, in the ol' blog's special Storm Warnings pages.

To my Mississippi readers and friends, I hope this helps. I also hope that when other major disasters strike, and unfortunately, they will — but please, Disaster Demons, not at the horrific 2020 pace! — remember that if you do need and qualify for any tax or government help after a catastrophe, take it.

More importantly, prepare beforehand. Disasters can strike at any time.

And most important, stay safe. Your and your family's well-being always comes before anything, even taxes.

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