Today’s the day: tax day, April 15. This day is as much ritual to our country as national holidays. However, despite the ceremonious processes that accompany it, it’s more of an anti-holiday in the eyes of most taxpayers. Some years, tax day shifts slightly to accommodate Emancipation Day (a holiday in the District of Columbia), but for the most part, falls on April 15 if the date doesn’t fall on a weekend. So how did April 15 become the deadline for settling our debts to the government? We bring you a brief history of Tax Day.
The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, established the right of the federal government to directly tax individuals. This Amendment was adopted on February 3, 1913, so Congress opted for March 1 of 1914 to be the first filing deadline. However, this amendment didn’t impose an income tax—that arrived with the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913 on October 3, 1913. This act stipulated that individuals with an annual income exceeding $3,000 for single filers or $4,000 for married couples were required to file a return. Those numbers sure have changed!
The new deadline became March 15 when the Revenue Act of 1918 was passed, giving taxpayers a couple extra weeks to gather their tax materials. It wasn’t until 1955 that the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 established April 15 as the new deadline. The explanation for the change was to help taxpayers as the tax laws became more complex and convoluted. House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Daniel A. Reed, expressed that this extra month would also help accountants, tax preparers and the IRS spread out their tax season workload. Another theory arose: that as the income tax applied to more of the middle class the government was issuing more refunds, and the extension of the deadline allowed the government to otherwise utilize those funds longer.
Interestingly, the previous deadline of March 15 symbolically corresponded with the Ides of March—a date on the Roman calendar that served as a deadline for settling debts. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While he wasn’t referring to federal incomes taxes at the time, it’s a fitting sentiment. Taxes are woven into the fabric of our country from their establishment in the Constitution. While today may not feel like a holiday to you, tomorrow is a holiday of sorts for your CPA. Congratulations to you and your CPA on surviving another tax season.