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Legal holidays and how they can affect federal taxes

Reviewed and updated Monday, Oct. 9, 2023

Monday holiday keep calm

Welcome to another Monday holiday. Today is Columbus Day.

And yes, it's still officially called that by the federal government. The White House issued a proclamation last week lauding namesake Christopher Columbus.

But the Biden Administration also recognizes that on the second Monday in October, many in the United States celebrate the country's original inhabitants. So, on the same day as the Columbus statement, the president issued a second proclamation citing Oct. 10 as Indigenous Peoples' Day.

The dual and dueling declarations of what is and should be celebrated on this October holiday is only a part of its complexities.

Like most other federal holidays, Columbus Day has seen its meaning co-opted by the private sector. More of us attend retailers' sales (need a new mattress?) on this October holiday than go to parades celebrating the 15th century Italian explorer.

It's also one of those holidays without a firm calendar date. Instead, Columbus Day, like many other holidays, is subject to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This means the actual date that used to signify a federal holiday is no longer relevant.

The shift to Monday holidays does have some advantages. It makes it easier to remember these days. It also gives many folks a long weekend.

The shifting of holidays to a week day, however, sometimes means that they collide with federal tax deadlines.

IRS deadline timing: The Internal Revenue Service says it considers our tax returns, payments and other required tax actions as being completed on time if they are sent or completed by the tax event's deadline.

Meet this timely filing requirements and you'll avoid penalty and interest charges for being late.

For paper filings, this generally means a U.S. Postal Service postmark on the envelope on the deadline day. For e-filings, it means transmitting on the due date.

Note that for e-filing, the timing when the IRS says you can hit "send" varies depending on the type of transaction, so if you're pushing your electronic compliance to the very last minute, be sure to check with your tax pro or the IRS.

These deadlines, however, get shifted when they fall on a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday. In these cases, the due date is the next business day.

Legal vs. federal holidays: Also take note of the term legal holiday. Most of us tend to think that the descriptors legal and federal are interchangeable synonyms for these select days.

Not quite.

A federal holiday is one recognized by Uncle Sam by the closure of his offices. The easiest way to determine whether a holiday is considered a federal one is to see whether the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail. While our post offices are an independent operation of the executive branch, its employees follow federal rules, including holiday observances.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management also keeps track of federal holidays for all government workers. For 2023, they are — or were, since many have already occurred — observed on:

  • New Year's Day (Monday, January. 2)
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Monday, January 16)
  • George Washington's Birthday (Monday, February 20; and yep, that's the holiday's official name, not Presidents, with or without an apostrophe, Day)
  • District of Columbia Emancipation Day (Monday, April 17; the actual Emancipation Day is April 16, but when that is on a weekend, it is celebrated on the weekday closest to the 16th)
  • Memorial Day (Monday, May 29)
  • Juneteenth (Monday, June 19)
  • Independence Day (Tuesday, July 4)
  • Labor Day (Monday, September 4)
  • Columbus Day (Monday, October 9)
  • Veterans Day (observed by federal workers on Friday, November 10, but the precise November 11 Veterans Day holiday is not subject to the Monday holiday law, since the date and time have special significance denoting the end of World War I)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 23)
  • Christmas Day (Monday, December 25)

A quick note about Emancipation Day. This is not a federal holiday, but is one in Washington, D.C. When the District's mid-April commemoration of the freeing of slaves in the District of Columbia falls on Tax Day, federal law requires that the IRS observe it, too. In these cases, as happened this year, Tax Day is moved to the next business day, which in 2023 meant Tuesday, April 18. That tax filing connection is why I've included Emancipation Day in the holiday list.

For future planning purposes, here are when these federal holidays will be acknowledged in 2024:

  • New Year's Day (Monday, January 1)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, January 15)
  • Washington's Birthday (Monday, February 19)
  • District of Columbia Emancipation Day (Tuesday, April 16)
  • Memorial Day (Monday, May 27)
  • Juneteenth (Wednesday, June 19)
  • Independence Day (Thursday, July 4)
  • Labor Day (Monday, September 2)
  • Columbus Day (Monday, October 14)
  • Veterans Day (Monday, November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 28)
  • Christmas Day (Wednesday, December 25)

In most cases, state and local government offices also are shuttered on federal holidays.

Tax calendar effects: These legal holidays also sometimes affect federal tax filings.

As noted, that happened this April with Emancipation Day. This year's impending October extended tax return filing deadline also is late — it's on Monday, Oct. 16 — but that's because the normal 10/15 due date is on Sunday.

So keep an eye on your calendar, both the days and dates. Enjoy your days off for federal holidays, but make sure you don't miss a tax deadline that's moved because of a holiday.

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