Anyone living or working in Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Cumberland or Monroe counties may:
• Wait until May 31 to file their income taxes or make a 2011 IRA contribution
• Request free copies of prior-year tax documents
• Claim casualty loss for property damage from recent storms on their 2011 or 2012 tax filings
Source: Internal Revenue Service
Cathie Wallace was ready to file her taxes online on March 2, but she wanted to go over everything one more time to make sure everything was in order.
She logged off her computer and left the house for the day, ready to finish filing when she returned that night.
But when she came home, her house was gone, one of about 20 homes in her Woodland Bay neighborhood to be totally destroyed by tornadoes that ripped through the area.
"Every single receipt I had sitting on the table is gone," Wallace said. "If I get audited, I'll say, 'Well, let me show you some pictures.'"
Luckily for Wallace and thousands like her, the disaster means the income tax filing deadline is pushed back nearly six weeks to May 31. Anyone living or working in a county declared a federal disaster area, whether their house was blown away or not, can take advantage of the extension.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency this week declared Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Cumberland and Monroe counties as disaster areas after the early March tornadoes.
Relief workers affiliated with disaster organizations, anyone injured by the storms or even visitors in the area at the time also can take advantage of the extension.
"The thinking is that this gives them more time to deal with whatever adversity was caused by the disaster," said Dan Boone, spokesman for the Tennessee office of the Internal Revenue Service.
Because the deadline extension covers practically everyone who lived or traveled near storm-damaged areas, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers will be covered.
But Tracy Steele, an office manager for H&R Block, expects most will still meet the original April 17 deadline -- even those who owe money.
"I understand them not wanting to pay until the last minute," she said. "A lot of people think they have to pay on the day they have the return, but that's a misconception."
Under the guidelines, people worried that they owe money can file their taxes to see how much they owe, then still wait till the deadline to pay.
Storm victims hit badly enough can write off some of their storm expenses, applying them to either this tax season or the next. Those deductions could help mitigate any taxes that are owed to the IRS.
Even without the disaster extension, taxpayers can file for extensions.
Bill Russell, a tax partner with Decosimo Certified Public Accountants, said he usually does several extensions each year, and expects this year to be similar to those in the past.
"We will extend them year in and year out," he said. "Typically, people are looking for their federal tax refunds, so a delay is a delay in receiving."
Wallace doesn't want to lose any time filing her taxes. Her house was a total loss, but she and her husband are getting their lives back together and have found a new home in East Ridge. She even thinks she'll be able to meet the original tax filing deadline thanks to her son, who found her computer in the rubble of her home.
"I thought it was gone," she said. "But my son is my hero."