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Why is April 15 Tax Day?

Happy Tax Day!

Sorry. I didn't mean to give you a heart attack. But I'm pretty sure that by now every taxpayer knows that this year the tax-filing deadline is Tuesday, April 17.

When April 15 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday, we get until the next business day to file our returns.

So instead of scrambling to get our 1040s filed by midnight today, Sunday, April 15, our federal tax returns normally would be due tomorrow, Monday, April 16.

But that's Emancipation Day, a holiday in the District of Columbia.

And as we learned when this holiday and Tax Day coincided back in 2007 and 2011, a federal statute enacted decades ago says that holidays observed in the District of Columbia have an impact nationwide, not just in D.C.

15 April deadline for federal tax filingSo the federal tax filing deadline gets moved to the next business day. Tuesday, April 17, 2012.

Still, April 15 is the official Tax Day. So that's today's By the Numbers figure.

Just how did the middle of April come to be one of America's most hated days?

It used to be March 1. That's the tax deadline set when the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the income tax (please, tax protesters, save your energy and don't bother emailing your lunatic frivolous arguments), was ratified on Feb. 3, 1913.

Congress decided to give taxpayers back then a year plus a few weeks to get used to the income tax idea.

When the Revenue Act of 1918 was enacted, a provision in that law moved the filing deadline to March 15.

But Congress couldn't stop fiddling with the filing calendar.

In 1955, additional tax-code revisions pushed the date to April 15.

It probably wasn't a bad idea. Moving the filing deadline deeper into the calendar year spread out the Internal Revenue Service's workload.

But there also was a likely fiscal reason for moving Tax Day.

As more middle class Americans filed taxes in the mid-50s, Uncle Sam was issuing more refunds. Pushing the deadline back gave the government more time to hold on to the money, Ed McCaffery, a University of Southern California law professor, told Fortune magazine.

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