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Retailers offer discounts and giveways to ease pain of tax day

Tax day won't be an ordinary work day for Kasi Hernandez, who will get into the shop before dawn, hours before other employees arrive. He's not an accountant or a tax preparer, though, and he's not working a hot line for stressed taxpayers. He makes cookies.

He's the general manager at Great American Cookie at The Mall in Columbia, and because April 15, the deadline for filing taxes, has turned into a promotional opportunity for some retailers, he has to get up at 4:30 a.m. and be at work by 5 to start making the cookies, between 600 and 750 of them. Chocolate chip cookies — a house favorite — will be handed out to every customer all day on Tuesday at stores in Columbia and Harborplace.

Hernandez figures taxpayers are due a little something extra. And besides, he said, "It makes people happy."

Tax day has turned festive, and it's not just the cookies and the people dressed as the Statue of Liberty doing a lively wave-dance outside Liberty Tax Services offices. Some gyms and chiropractic offices are giving away free time in a massage bed if you have a coupon. Office Depot offers free or discounted paper shredding with a coupon. And the Hard Rock Cafe will let customers sing for their supper between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

It's all to soften the blow of a deadline that nearly 10 percent of federal taxpayers will miss, according to the Internal Revenue Service, which figures 12 million taxpayers will request the standard six-month extension, allowing them to delay filing until Oct 15.

In Maryland last year, about 200,000 returns were filed after the deadline, nearly 7 percent, said Barbara Sauers, spokeswoman for the state comptroller's office.

Many wait until days before the deadline to submit federal returns, said Anthony Burke, spokesman for the IRS. Historically, about a third of tax-return filers wait until the last two or three weeks to file.

In Maryland, as of Monday, 2.14 million state returns had been filed, meaning about 800,000, or nearly a third of the total, were yet to arrive, Sauers said.

Procrastinators come in a variety of forms, but generally, Sauers said, "returns filed close to or on deadline day typically owe money."

Filing an extension buys time to file the return but not to pay taxes owed, cautions Mark Luscombe, a CPA and federal tax analyst with Wolters Klewer CCH of Riverwoods, Ill.: "An extension to file is not an extension to pay."

The money is due, regardless of when you file the return, although there are ways to work out accommodations with the IRS to pay later, Luscombe said, depending on your financial circumstances and when you expect to pay. Failing to pay would mean a full examination of your financial life by the IRS, and could result in a requirement to sell assets.

"Most people describe it as a difficult process," Luscombe said.

Taxpayers can get some relief from the process with a free meal from a limited menu at the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore's Inner Harbor — but they'll have to sing for it.

"It's your time to shine, come on out and be a rock star for a few minutes," said Meghan Welsh, the sales and marketing manager, who said the "Sing for Your Supper" promotion is being offered for the first time at Hard Rock Cafes around the country. She said she's hoping to get 30 customers to sing from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in exchange for a meal of either a grilled vegetable sandwich, an arugula salad with shaved chicken, or a burger.

Backed by two guitarists and a drummer, singers will perform tunes chosen from a list of more than 50. It appears there's no tax day theme in the song selection, although Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" might be apropos.

The music will play at a covered outdoor pier, so the event, like the tax deadline, will be unaffected by weather.

"I want everyone to come, it's going to be fun," she said.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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