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Coronavirus Could Cause Complexity For Tax Filers, Pros

Feb. 28, 2020, 8:28 PM

Coronavirus could throw a wrench into otherwise routine tax-filing tasks, like heading to an H&R Block to sort out your tax return or going to the post office on April 15 to mail it at the last minute.

If the spread of the virus means individuals must stay home for weeks at a time, those errands may not be possible. That could pose problems for tax filers with questions. Plus, it could mean IRS workers can’t head into the agency to address refund claims and answer phone-line questions. And while it’s early to plan for extended time at home, it may not be too early to consider filing online.

So far the virus has hit dozens of countries, with many fearing it could reach pandemic levels. There are 62 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An outbreak in the U.S. could make it harder for people to meet with their tax professionals, Nancy Kasten, a spokeswoman at the National Association of Tax Professionals, said Friday. NATP’s 35,000 members haven’t raised the issue so far, she said.

The impact largely depends on timing, Kasten said. If an outbreak were to hit in the next month or so, there may be a significant number of requests for filing extensions.

It could also reduce IRS operations to government-shutdown levels, Kasten said. The 35-day government shutdown at the end of 2018 brought long wait times for callers and a backlog written of inquiries to the agency.

The current tax-filing deadline is April 15, although the IRS may decide to offer an extension, Kasten said. The agency frequently offers filing extensions to people affected by natural disasters, like earthquakes and wildfires.

The IRS didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Taxpayers may want to file before the deadline “to avoid a possible future outbreak,” said Mark Steber, senior vice president and chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. The company offers a product for taxpayers to file from home with the help of a tax professional, a new service this year.

The company is monitoring the situation, and tax preparers or other staff are required to stay home if they are feeling ill, especially with flu-like symptoms, Steber said.

Kathy Pickering, vice president of regulatory affairs and executive director of H&R Block Inc.’s Tax Institute, said it’s too early to know the impact of coronavirus. There are lots of options for tax filing, aside from coming in person, she said.

“I’m not anticipating that we’ll see an impact in terms of filing this year,” she said.

—With assistance from Lydia O’Neal and Allyson Versprille.

To contact the reporter on this story: Colleen Murphy in Washington at cmurphy@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com

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