Government shutdown 101: Will I still have to file my taxes?

A government shutdown would not mean that Tax Day 2011 changes. The April 18 deadline would remain in place, though some things at the IRS might move slower.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Tax forms are put on display for passers by outside the IRS office in the JFK Federal Building in Boston March 24. Tax Day 2011 would remain unchanged in a government shutdown.

If a government shutdown happens this week, it would happen at an awkward time for American taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service.

Tax returns, after all, are due from millions of Americans in little more than a week.

Government shutdowns have happened before, but this time it's occurring during peak tax-filing season.

A partial shutdown of federal operations would occur if a budget impasse between congressional Republicans, Democrats, and President Obama is not resolved by April 8. Here's how that could affect taxpayers.

File anyway

First, just because the government "shuts down" – which really means a partial halt of activities – doesn't mean you don't have to pay taxes. Income taxes are still due as usual, with one caveat that has nothing to do with a shutdown: This year the deadline is April 18 instead of April 15, because of the timing of a District of Columbia holiday.

File electronically if you can

If a shutdown occurs, IRS offices won't be totally empty starting next Monday. Federal employees doing work that's deemed essential will show up. "While we're not going to have a full complement of operations,... the IRS will be accepting tax returns," IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said at a public appearance Wednesday.

But he warned that a shutdown would slow the processing of paper tax returns. "People really should file electronically because most of these returns are processed automatically and will not experience any delays. However, taxpayers who file paper returns will experience some delays if we end up in a government shutdown," Mr. Shulman said.

The good news: So far this year, about 9 in 10 tax filers has been sending their returns electronically.

Wait, watch, and improvise

Beyond the processing of returns, a shutdown could affect IRS activities deemed less essential. The agency hasn't announced its official shutdown game plan. But a shutdown could put audits of taxpayers on hold, for instance. And taxpayers who want to ask questions may not find a friendly live person on the other end of the phone line.

If there's a question you can't get answered before April 18, one option is to file for an extension. Tax money owed is still due on the 18th, but you'll have extra time to make sure your tax return is correct. The form to file for an extension is Form 4868.

Government shutdown 101:

Introduction: What would a shutdown mean for you?

Part 1: What does it mean for veterans?

Part 2: Will I still have to file my taxes?

Part 3: Will Social Security and Medicare be affected?

Part 4: What does it mean for the military?

Part 5: What does it mean for homeland security?

Part 6: What does it mean for Medicaid?

Part 7: How will it affect unemployment insurance?

Part 8: What does it mean for welfare and food stamps?


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