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PERSONAL FINANCE / KATHY M. KRISTOF

What Last-Minute Filers Should Know

April 15, 1993|KATHY M. KRISTOF

Still haven't filed your tax returns? You're not alone. On the eve of the April 15 deadline, the Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday that filings were running about 6.5% behind 1992's pace.

Where do you get help, information or tax forms at the last minute? What do you do if you can't finish or if you can't pay? How do you find a post office that's open until midnight?

Here's a guide for last-minute filers:

* Filing questions: The IRS has a tax help hot line at (800) 829-1040 for people with last-minute questions. Call early; the line is frequently busy and operators are only available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There's also an automated line that gives recorded information about a variety of subjects, including gift taxes and itemized deductions. To use the automated line, you need a copy of the "1040 Forms and Instructions" booklet, which lists topics and the numbers you punch on your touch-tone phone to get information on those subjects.

If you can't get through or the automated information isn't enough, IRS agents plan to be at a handful of local post offices from 6 p.m. to midnight tonight to give out forms and help with questions. (These plans could change in the event of civil unrest, however.)

Los Angeles post offices where IRS agents are scheduled to work include Terminal Annex at 900 N. Alameda; South-Central General Mail Center at the corner of Florence and Central avenues; Worldway Air Mail Center at 5800 Century Blvd.; Van Nuys Main Post Office at 15701 Sherman Way, and Industry Main Post Office at 15421 E. Gale Ave. in the City of Industry. Similar help will not be available at post offices in Orange, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

* Forms: It is probably too late to get needed forms from the IRS tax form hot line (800) 829-3676. However, post offices and libraries also stock commonly used schedules. If all else fails, you can go to the bookstore and buy "The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 1993," which includes usable forms for everything from child care expenses (Form 2441) to automatic extension requests (Form 4868).

* More time: You just can't finish? File a Form 4868, which gives you four more months to fill out your return. Filing this request does not give you extra time to pay. You must send a check for the estimated tax due with the form.

* Can't pay: File your 1040, or an extension request, anyway and send along a Form 9465 "Installment Agreement Request," which, if accepted, lets you pay your tax over time. You'll have to pay interest on the amount you owe as well as a small penalty. But by filing, you'll avoid the big 5% per-month penalties for non-filers.

* Posting by midnight: If your envelope doesn't have an official U.S. Postal Service stamp--Federal Express, United Parcel Service and company postal machines won't do--and it gets to the IRS after April 15, you're subject to late filing fees. The good news is that numerous post offices will be open until midnight on April 15 to accommodate last-minute filers.

For information on which post offices are open throughout the Southland, call (213) 586-1463 or (213) 586-1467.

* IRA contributions: Hunting for a last-minute deduction? You can still make your 1992 individual retirement account contribution, up to $2,000, if you get the money to the investment custodian today. Some mutual fund companies say they will accept any mailed 1992 contributions postmarked today. The IRS, however, contends that the check must actually be in the custodian's hands.

One option: Just open a money market IRA with a bank or S&L today--and move it later to a more desirable investment.

Times staff writer Tom Petruno contributed to this story.

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