It’s a new year, and you’re beginning to gather all your documents so your accountant can do your taxes. Then you wonder…why is tax day on April 15th anyway? The short answer is because the U.S. Congress set that date by law back in 1954. But income tax filing day wasn’t always April 15th.
In fact, the United States government didn’t levy an income tax until 1862 when Congress passed the Revenue Act to help fund the Civil War effort. That law was eliminated in 1872, and replaced with taxes collected on goods like tobacco and alcohol. A second income tax law was passed in 1894 but was struck down by the US Supreme Court because it was a direct tax “not apportioned among the states” as was called for in the Constitution (more on this in a future post). That defeat eventually led to a Constitutional Amendment, which, ironically, was proposed by conservatives in Congress.
On February 3rd, 1913 the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified allowing the federal government to tax the income of any individual. At the time, March 1st, 1914 was set as the original income tax filing due date approximately one year after the ratification. That annual date was changed to March 15th by Congress in 1918. Then, buried in a 1954 major tax code overhaul package, the income tax filing due date was changed to April 15th, as it remains today.
Why the change from the original tax due date? The official explanation is to spread the peak workload of IRS employees throughout the year. However, Ed McCaffery, law professor at USC, told Fortune magazine that “pushing the deadline back gives the government more time to hold on to the money”. Because the income tax applied to more and more middle class people who often receive refunds, the later date allows the government to collect more interest on taxes withheld from wages throughout the year.
What do you think? Is April 15th a good tax date? For more information on the 16th Amendment, go to: