Tax time is almost here, but you get a bit of a reprieve this year because the traditional April 15 filing deadline falls on Sunday and the following Monday is a legal holiday in Washington, D.C. So the filing deadline this year for both federal and state taxes is Tuesday, April 17. Tracy Oliva, owner of the Jackson Hewitt Tax Office in Hercules, doesn't think the extra time will result in a lot more people waiting until the very last minute to file their taxes. It didn't last year when the deadline also was extended. "Last year, on the very last day of the filing (deadline), we really had only a few people come in, but it was the days prior to that they were coming in and walking in and calling for their appointments," he said. Rules for requesting an extension to file a return don't change, despite the later deadline. You still have to pay any federal or state income taxes owed by the April 17 filing deadline to avoid penalties and interest for late payments. Taxpayers can go to www.irs.gov/freefile to request a six-month extension online for federal income taxes. Or they can download an IRS Form 4868 and mail it in. California provides an automatic six-month filing extension. Free tax help is available to Bay Area households with adjusted gross income of below $50,000 last year through the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! program, which electronically files both federal and state income tax returns for clients. "We have quite a few sites that our open until the 17th," said Kelly Batson, a director of the program. "Our sites are making sure people get (every deduction and tax credit) they are eligible for." Residents of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Solano counties can call 2-1-1 or visit wwww.earnitkeepitsaveit.org to find a walk-in location or make an appointment. Santa Clara County residents can call 2-1-1 or visit www.211scc.org. E-filing has increased over the years, and most taxpayers are expected to file electronically this year. More than 112 million federal income tax returns were e-filed last year, or about 77 percent of individual returns. Households with a modified adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less in 2011 can electronically file federal returns at no charge by going to www.irs.gov/freefile. The Free File program is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and 15 participating tax software companies. Not all companies offer the same deal. For example, some have age restrictions as to who can qualify. Some will charge for state returns. Not all will offer free extensions for those who are not ready to file a return. So it's important to read carefully what the companies offer -- or don't offer -- before making a selection. Taxpayers can also e-file their federal income tax forms for free through the Free File Fillable Forms program, which is also found at www.irs.gov/freefile. The program has no income restrictions. But taxpayers who go this route do not receive free software help to fill out returns. They are provided only the electronic version of IRS forms. This option does not take care of state returns. California income tax returns can be electronically filed at the Franchise Tax Board's website, www.ftb.ca.gov. However, there are some restrictions.
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