The federal government is giving most people an extra three months to pay if they owe money on their income tax returns.

But that leniency is causing confusion and does little to ease the crunch of the April 15 filing deadline, which has been made more burdensome by the coronavirus.

Trish Brigham, executive director of the Maine Society of CPAs, said many Maine accountants are now working from home as part of the social distancing effort intended to slow the spread of the virus.

Federal officials announced this week that those who owe on their taxes will have until July 15 to pay, a three-month extension aimed at increasing the amount of cash in people’s pockets as the prospect of a virus-induced recession looms. But there are some restrictions and confusion over when to file, said Karla Brannen, senior tax manager with the accounting firm Albin, Randall & Bennett.

“I’ve gotten several emails from clients asking, ‘Does that mean my return’s not due (until July)?” Brannen said.

Brigham, Brannen and others have been lobbying lawmakers to push back the filing deadline, as well. The coronavirus has forced many accountants and tax preparers to change the way they operate, making the crunch around the deadline’s approach even more difficult.

U.S. Sen. Angus King said Thursday he has introduced legislation to push the filing deadline to July 15 to match the payment deadline. The bill was c0-sponsored by two Republican senators, increasing the likelihood of its passage.

“That would ideally put the two (dates) in tandem,” Brigham said.

Brigham said many accountants lost days of work due to a switch to working from home, taking several days to set up a new office, and Brannen said clients who used to drop off documents now have to send them electronically or mail them to avoid restrictions on visitors to offices. That changes the way tax preparers have to get the paperwork they need and sometimes creates delays, Brigham and Brannen both said.

“It’s really challenging for not just taxpayers to deal with this, but also tax preparers,” Brigham said.

Adding to the challenge for taxpayers, the AARP has suspended Tax-Aide, its free tax preparation service, which is aimed primarily at helping those over 60. Because that’s the same age group considered at greater risk of serious illness should they contract the virus, the organization felt that the face-to-face tax help would be too risky for its volunteer preparers and the taxpayers using the service.

About 25,000 Mainers used the service or asked AARP for help with tax questions last year, said Jane Margesson, spokeswoman for the AARP in Maine. The AARP has not determined when it might be able to start offering the service again.

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