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Tax Return Due Dates and Some History

Several federal bills enacted in 2015 included tax changes. One of these was P.L. 114-41 (7/31/15), the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act. Given the title, we might think that any tax change involved transportation, such as the gasoline excise tax. Wrong! This bill does not increase the gasoline excise tax. Its main purpose is to transfer money from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund because our gasoline excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon is insufficient to fund the HTF (and more fuel efficient cars means we buy less gas each year).  [I’ve blogged on this a few times – here, for example.]

One of the tax change in P.L. 114-41 is to change due dates of certain returns, starting mostly for the 2016 tax year. The purpose is improved administration of our tax system. For example, one change is to move the due date for a calendar year corporation return from March 15 to April 15 and that of a partnership from April 15 to March 15. That is smart because the partnership return is needed to get information to the partners. No one needs the information on the corporate return in order to file their return.  The AICPA has a helpful chart that lists the changed due dates.

There is no change to the due date of Form 1040 – it remains April 15 with the extended due date still being October 15.  Which brings me to my main point – some trivia. Did you know that individual returns were once due on March 15?

The April 15 due date started with 1954 returns.  Did you know that the IRS has the Form 1040 and instructions on its website for 1953 and 1954? Take a look:

1954       Form       Instructions
1953       Form       Instructions

I like the tips offered by the IRS. For example, for 1954 (which notes the “new law” that includes the new due date for 1954 returns):

Page 1 of 1954 Form 1040 Instructions

I also find this statement from the instructions interesting – that you should have no problem filing your return and if you need help, the IRS will sell you a guide book for 25 cents!

Page 3 of 1954 Form 1040 Instructions

Tax rates were a lot higher in 1954 and 1953 – in the low 90% range. Of course, most people did not have income high enough to be in the rate. For 1993, you’d have to have income over $300,000 to have the excess taxed at 92%.  That equals about $2.7 million today.  That is no doubt, a high rate. There were 26 tax brackets ranging from 22% to 92%.  You’d be at the 41% bracket with income over $12,000 ($107,000 today). There was a tax table – you can find it on page 12 of the 1953 instructions.

Tax rates are still high today, but certainly not at 92%. The highest individual rate is 39.6% and less than 2% of individuals have to deal with that.  One of several reasons for high rates today is that they support our small tax base – made small by the numerous deductions and exclusions allowed in our complex income tax system.

Hope you enjoyed looking at the old returns.

What do you think – about the due dates, old returns, rates?

Original Post By:  Annette Nellen


Annette Nellen, CPA, Esq., is a professor in and director of San Jose State University’s graduate tax program (MST), teaching courses in tax research, accounting methods, property transactions, state taxation, employment tax, ethics, tax policy, tax reform, and high technology tax issues.

Annette is the immediate past chair of the AICPA Individual Taxation Technical Resource Panel and a current member of the Executive Committee of the Tax Section of the California Bar. Annette is a regular contributor to the AICPA Tax Insider and Corporate Taxation Insider e-newsletters. She is the author of BNA Portfolio #533, Amortization of Intangibles.

Annette has testified before the House Ways & Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, California Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee, and tax reform commissions and committees on various aspects of federal and state tax reform.

Prior to joining SJSU, Annette was with Ernst & Young and the IRS.

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