Tax Returns and the Government Shutdown: Is It Time for CPA?


At the time this post was written (early January 2019), the federal government’s partial shutdown was entering its third week. Most of us think of shutdowns in terms of national parks having fewer rangers and Washington tourist attractions being closed. But there is a looming problem on the horizon: the potential inability to file tax returns.

According to a variety of news sources, the IRS is now operating on a skeleton crew consisting of one out of every eight employees. The live assistance phone line is not being answered and IRS computers are not accepting online tax returns. Anyone who receives an audit letter in 2018 will still be subject to that audit, but there’s no one answering the phones right now to provide answers to consumer questions.

If you have never used a CPA to prepare and file your taxes before, this may be the year to do it. According to Dallas-based Gurian PLLC, a combination of the partial shutdown and tax changes incurred as a result of 2017 reform could make 2019 challenging for some taxpayers.

Deadlines Haven’t Changed

It is important to note that the partial government shutdown has not changed the legal deadlines of the annual tax season. Employers are still required to distribute W-2s and file W-3s no later than January 31. Individual taxpayers must still file their returns no later than April 15.

Income tax, FICA, and FUTA deadlines for businesses haven’t changed either. Gurian advises continuing just as if the government had not shut down. Businesses have to be prepared under the assumption that the shutdown will end sooner rather than later. If it does continue past established deadlines, the government will have to accommodate businesses accordingly.

Concerns for Tax Filers

In all likelihood, the current shutdown will not stretch into April. But that doesn’t help taxpayers who might want to file their returns now. In light of that, there are a number of concerns in the short term:

  • Tax Form Changes – There are a number of tax form changes still waiting to be approved by the IRS. Until they are approved, old forms must be used. They may or may not be acceptable once the shutdown ends.
  • Tax Filings – Next, it is possible to prepare your taxes now, but they cannot be filed. Anyone who hires a CPA or tax preparation firm will just have to wait until after the shutdown to file.
  • Delayed Refunds – Taxpayers hoping to get their refunds by the end of the month will probably not get them. Until taxes can be filed, refunds cannot be issued.

If you haven’t yet filed your taxes and getting a refund immediately is not critical, you can always wait until the shutdown is over. Remember that tax returns are not due until April 15. So even though you might normally file in January or early February, you could wait until March or April if necessary without any legal complications.

CPAs Are Tax Experts

The partial government shutdown may or may not be a good thing depending on your vantage point. It could be good for CPA firms inasmuch as it might send new clients their way. As certified and licensed professionals, CPAs are tax experts more than capable of guiding their clients through the current shutdown.

On the other hand, the shutdown might be bad if you are the kind of person who likes to file early. But there’s nothing anyone can do about. Just sit back, hold tight, and consider hiring a CPA if the shutdown is causing you a bit of angst.