Granted, they screwed up: yesterday was the deadline for filing income tax returns, and the IRS web site for e-filing crashed for half a day. Because of that crash, the Secretary of the Treasury has announced that the deadline has been extended by one day.

Does the IRS have the legal authority to make this change?

  • 1
    Note that there is a quick and easy process (and has been for years) to extend your filing date by 6 months...what doesn't get extended is the due date for what you owe, so interest and penalties start accruing from "Tax Day" (unless you make a sufficient estimated payment). Since they have the authority to allow for a later filing (and your filing can later be amended), the real question becomes do they have the authority to extend the payment deadline (and who is going to complain, really?) – sharur Apr 18 at 14:11
  • "Does the IRS have the legal authority to make this change?" Of course they have the statutory authority to do that. Is your next question "Does the IRS have the legal authority to make me pay taxes"? – BlueDogRanch Apr 18 at 14:49
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    Why is this an "of course"? Where is it officially written that taxes are due on the 15th -- somewhere in CFR? Where is the associated authority? Was it Congress that set the 15th as tax due day? – user6726 Apr 18 at 15:01
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    @user6726 -- exactly. If the Internal Revenue Code (an act of Congress) sets out the deadline, unless it also gives the IRS the authority to modify it, the IRS can't change it. If the deadline is determined by the IRS, then there are rule-making requirements that might prevent them from making such a rapid change. That's what I'm asking about: where does the deadline come from, and who has legal authority to change it? – PJB Apr 18 at 15:14

The IRS does not technically have the authority to extend the deadline, but I also don't think that's what happened this week.

The deadline for individual returns based on a calendar year is generally set to April 15 by IRC 6072, and automatically extended for weekends and holidays by IRC 7503. So Tax Day is normally April 15, but that's a Sunday this year, so you move it to April 16. But that's a holiday in D.C. this year, so you move it to the next day, which brings us to April 17.

Although the media has reported it this way, the Service's official announcement doesn't actually claim that the IRS is "extending the deadline":

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it is providing taxpayers an additional day to file and pay their taxes following system issues that surfaced early on the April 17 tax deadline. Individuals and businesses with a filing or payment due date of April 17 will now have until midnight on Wednesday, April 18. Taxpayers do not need to do anything to receive this extra time.

The IRS encountered system issues Tuesday morning. Throughout the system outage, taxpayers were still able to file their tax returns electronically through their software providers and Free File. Taxpayers using paper to file and pay their taxes at the deadline were not affected by the system issue.

It continues to refer to "the deadline" as April 17, and it says that it is "providing taxpayers an additional day to file and pay their taxes."

So that sounds like they are not so much purporting to change the IRC 6071 deadline, but rather invoking their authority to waive or abate interest and penalties. That authority could come from a variety of places, but most likely IRC 6724, which says, "No penalty shall be imposed under this part with respect to any failure if it is shown that such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect."

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    This seems like a much more reasonable explanation. "We can't give you an extra day, but we're not going to ping you if you take it anyway". – Nij Apr 19 at 4:40

The deadline is hard-wired in the US Code at 26 USC 6072

(a) General rule. In the case of returns under section 6012, 6013, or 6017 (relating to income tax under subtitle A), returns made on the basis of the calendar year shall be filed on or before the 15th day of April following the close of the calendar year and returns made on the basis of a fiscal year shall be filed on or before the 15th day of the fourth month following the close of the fiscal year, except as otherwise provided in the following subsections of this section.

It is interesting to note that 26 USC 6071 says

(a) General rule: When not otherwise provided for by this title, the Secretary shall by regulations prescribe the time for filing any return, statement, or other document required by this title or by regulations.

This section grants the Sec'y. the power to regulatorily set the filing time, when not otherwise provided. But §6072 seems to be exactly proving otherwise. In fact, taxes should have been due on the 15th, period, who cares about weekends and holidays? Congress did: 26 USC 7503

When the last day prescribed under authority of the internal revenue laws for performing any act falls on Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday, the performance of such act shall be considered timely if it is performed on the next succeeding day which is not a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday.

There are other provisions in Ch. 77 allowing the deadline to be kicked down the road, such as in response to a federally declared disaster. There are "otherwise" provisions in the title, and I found none that pertain to computer screwups. (I must confess that I did not real the entirety of Title 26).

The evidence that the deadline has been extended is circumstantial, perhaps being an impromptu decision at a rally by the Sec'y (there does not seem to be any piece of official paper out there). It is entirely possible that he exceeded his authority, and it is entirely inconceivable that anyone will get an emergency court order enforcing the statutory deadline.

  • I don't think that anyone but the IRS would have standing to challenge the extension of the deadline, and the IRS would probably be estopped from asserting the deadline in court after making the announcement that it did. Generally someone asserting a right (here, the IRS) isn't allowed to encourage someone to infringe on that right and the enforce the breach that they induced having apparent authority to do so. – ohwilleke Apr 18 at 21:07

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