April 15: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Tax Day

Date: Mar. 19, 2006

Full Text Published by Tax AnalystsTM

Were tax returns always due on April 15?

No. Until 1955, returns were due on March15. From 1913 to 1918, they were due even earlier, with taxpayers scrambling to meet a March 1 deadline.

In 1954, Congress changed the date to give IRS employees a break. Most returns were filed near the deadline, swamping agency employees. Lawmakers hoped a later deadline would encourage taxpayers to file earlier. Human nature being what it is, returns continued to flood the agency just before the new deadline. In recent years, about 20 percent of returns have been filed in the last week of the filing season.

For millions of Americans, April 15 is a day of dread, replete with a last-minute dash to the post office. But until 1955, the day of reckoning fell a month earlier. Indeed, Julius Caesar wasn't the only one warned about the ides of March; during World War II, the Treasury Department vigorously reminded Americans that they too had better watch the calendar (see poster reproduction below).

Nonetheless, for almost a half century, April 15 has been a touchstone of middle-class existence. As we once again approach the annual deadline, it's worth remembering that the day is not all about taxes.