Tax tips for Californians: Deadline isn’t April 18, and many can file for free

Tax tips for Californians: Deadline isn’t April 18, and many can file for free

If you scan headlines this week, the words “tax deadline” are surely getting attention.

For many across the U.S., the filing deadline for federal returns is Tuesday, April 18. In all but three counties in California, that deadline is Oct. 16, thanks to storm-related declarations by the federal government.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know as a California tax filer …

No, you don’t have to file now

Despite what your accountant or tax preparer might say, an automatic extension to Oct. 16 has been granted by both the IRS and Franchise Tax Board.

The postponement of time to file and pay applies to all California counties except three – Lassen, Modoc and Shasta, the FTB told us.

RELATED: Middle Class Tax Refund: Early filers can amend 2022 returns to recoup taxes, IRS says

Why? The extension came after storms and ensuing weather damage prompted the Federal Emergency Management Administration to declare disaster zones (three of them) across the state.

You don’t need any supporting documentation to qualify for the extension, both agencies said. The “gift” of time will be automatically granted when your address is input into the tax return.

The specifics: This extension applies to individual returns and taxes that are due on April 18, 2023, and May 15, 2023, and business entity returns and taxes that are due on March 15, 2023, April 18, 2023, or May 15, 2023.

Taxpayers in all but three counties in California can file their taxes as late as Oct. 16, 2023 after the IRS and Franchise Tax Board extended the deadline because of storm-related disaster zones. (Courtesy of the Franchise Tax Board)

No, you don’t have to pay now

Several readers asked us if the extension applies to payments, too.

Emphatically, yes, both agencies said.

You can find supporting statements by the FTB and IRS on their respective websites. The language can be convoluted, but at its heart, you’re safe to delay payments to October.

Here’s the IRS’ roundabout way of saying so: “The (disaster) declaration permits the IRS to postpone certain tax-filing and tax-payment deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the disaster area. Affected taxpayers that have an estimated income tax payment originally due on or after March 9, 2023, and before Oct. 16, 2023, are postponed through Oct. 16, 2023, will not be subject to penalties for failure to pay estimated tax installments as long as such payments are paid on or before Oct. 16, 2023.”

The FTB was much more direct, saying these tax filers could delay payments:

—Individuals whose tax returns and payments due April 18.

—Quarterly estimated tax payments due Jan. 17, March 15, April 18, June 15, and September 15.

—Business entities whose tax returns are normally due on March 15 and April 18.

—Pass-through entity elective tax payments due March 15 and June 15.

Most qualify to file for free

Most taxpayers in the U.S. qualify to file their taxes for free using software programs available in a partnership with the IRS.

Nearly 70% of taxpayers qualify, based on income levels, for the Free File program, according to IRS data from 2021. Only 3% of qualifying taxpayers use it, NerdWallet calculated.

The Free File program offers software options with relatively simple plug-in-the-info forms.

It’s offered in several languages, allowing qualified filers who earn less than $73,000 in adjusted gross income to file electronically and get a refund by direct deposit.

The program uses tax preparation software provided free of charge by companies such as TaxSlayer, TaxAct and OLT (Online Taxes).

Filers have two ways to prepare and file their federal income tax online using the program:

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