LEWISTON — Mannie Patel has had a good tax season.

Good for him, maybe bad for you.

The owner of three Liberty Tax Service franchises in Lewiston-Auburn — the ones with dancing Statues of Liberty out front — said this year, he ran into more customers tripped up by Affordable Care Act penalties on their tax returns.

“They’re not doing it properly, so they’re getting penalties left and right,” Patel said. “A lot of people are trying to do (their own taxes) on TurboTax, which they can’t figure out, so they come see us, so it’s a better season for us than last year.”

Thanks to Patriots’ Day, Maine and Massachusetts residents get an extra day to file state and federal income tax returns. This year, Tuesday is the deadline.

If you haven’t mailed your tax return — or, like nearly 90 percent of Maine taxpayers as of early April, e-filed — get cracking.

Heather Popadak, director of the Maine Revenue Services’ income and estate tax division, said as of last week, the tax season has gone smoothly for the state, with the average refund amount slightly up, and overall incidents of fraud down, though it continues to be a concern.

“Our big trend this year is just the fraud issues,” Popadak said. “It kind of goes in cycles. We were having fewer incidences this year from last year, but the dollar amounts requested were higher this year over last year. Then the floodgates opened. It was a little bit later start to the fraudulent season.”

Through the end of March, the state had caught 697 fraudulent tax returns claiming refunds of more than $1.5 million.

State spokesman David Heidrich said only 10 returns claiming a total of between $15,000 and $20,000 had gotten out the door.

Though fraud appeared to be down by half as of late March, MRS continued to ask businesses to watch for company-wide data breaches and report suspected fraud as soon as possible.

“This year, Maine Revenue Services was notified by nine employers of identity theft breaches,” Heidrich said. “Last year, we heard from just a couple.”

All told, Popadak said the state had received 502,614 income tax returns as of last week. She was expecting a full 178,000 more in the last week of the tax season.

She also anticipated the state’s taxpayer call line would answer 30,000 calls between Feb. 1 and April 19.

Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. is the deadline to hand deliver a return to the MRS office in Augusta. E-filers have until midnight. Paper filers need to reach their local post office before the close of business. 

At Austin Associates in Auburn, which has 30 accountants, managing partner Philip Doucette said he noticed this tax season got off to a smoother start than last year, without any time-consuming congressional delays.

He also noticed fewer identity theft issues and some ACA questions.

When people receive a subsidy to pay for insurance in the government-organized marketplace “that’s an advance on a tax credit and people don’t always realize that,” Doucette said. “If you grossly underestimated your income, you may have to pay back a lot of that credit at the end of the year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised where people in that situation, where they have to pay it back, they kind of knew what they were getting into.”

He expected Tuesday to be “the same usual mad rush to the end.” 

Patel, who’s worked seven days a week for more than three months, said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family post-tax season.

He also said those funky dancing male and female Statues of Liberty really do bring in customers.

It’s “the cheapest way to advertise.”

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Tuesday is the deadline

Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. is the deadline to hand deliver a return to the MRS office in Augusta. E-filers have until midnight. Paper filers need to reach their local post office before close of business.

You, ME and taxes

Maine state income taxes by the numbers

Individual income tax returns filed through April 13: 512,576

Of those, number filed on paper: 56,713

Refunds issued through April 14: 354,987

Average refund amount: $586

Fraudulent returns flagged through the end of March: 697 claiming $1,522,362

Fraudulent returns flagged in the same period last year: 1,503 claiming $2,856,952

Source: Maine Revenue Services

$1.5 million in fraud caught so far

Through the end of March, Maine state tax experts had caught 697 fraudulent tax returns claiming refunds of more than $1.5 million. State spokesman David Heidrich said only 10 returns claiming a total of between $15,000 and $20,000 had gotten out the door.


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