Two American institutions that regularly catch a lot of flak find that they are good partners each April. I'm talking, of course, about the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service.
True, software-assisted return prep and e-filing by individual taxpayers or the tax preparers they hire now is the dominant way we get our 1040s to the IRS every year. Most of the 50 million yet-to-file taxpayers, who are this week's By the Numbers honorees, will use these electronic methods by the end of tomorrow.
But until Uncle Sam forces all of us to e-file, some folks will still finish their taxes the old-fashioned way, even if they use software to fill out their forms, and wrap it all up by making a tax-filing trip to their local post office.
In some cases, e-file-adverse taxpayers just don't trust the electronic delivery method even though you get an almost immediate acknowledgement after you hit send.
Others shy away from sending so much personal and financial information over the Internet, fearing hackers and tax identity theft.
And some owe the IRS and like the few days delay that it takes for the IRS to cash their snail mailed checks.
Whatever the reason for sending your dead-tree tax documents via snail mail, here are 5 tips to ensure your return meets IRS and USPS requirements.
1. Make sure your post office is open.
Back in the pre-digital days (yes, youngsters, they existed and many of us have lived to tell of them!) at least one post office in every town stayed open past its usual closing time on Tax Day. Some of them even had tax return collection parties.
Such filing festivities, however, are history.
That's why you need to check the U.S. Postal Service office locator for the nearest branch and then call it to find out its operating hours on April 15.
Also note the time of the last outgoing batch of mail. You want to make sure that your envelope to the IRS bears an April 15 postmark. That will make it timely mailed in the IRS' eyes and protect you from any late-filing penalties and interest.
2. Mail your return first class.
Speaking of postmarks, send your tax return via first-class mail. Double check the postage you need. If you're sending a lot of forms, schedules and supporting material to the IRS, it will cost you more than one Forever stamp. Don't be cheap.
That timely postmark won't do you any good if your return can't be delivered because of insufficient postage. It will either be late in arriving at the IRS or, more likely, returned to you, meaning you'll face late-filing penalties.
As added insurance against such a possibility, shell out a few more bucks to prove that you mailed your taxes on time. Send your taxes via certified mail, return receipt requested.
3. Put your return address on your envelope.
That undeliverable return scenario leads right into our third snail mail tax tip. If there's a problem delivering your return, the only way you'll get it back is if there is a legible return address on the envelope.
Sure, a return-to-sender tax packet means your filling will be late. But better late than never applies here.
If there's no return address (or one that can't be determined thanks to your unreadable scrawl), your 1040 could sit for months (or forever!) in a dead-letter pile, running up tax late charges you didn't even know were accumulating.
4. Send your return to the correct IRS office.
While an envelope addressed to any IRS office will eventually get your return to the proper place for processing, everyone will be happier if you send it to the correct campus from the get go.
Your tax return won't have to be shuffled around, meaning the IRS can do its primary filing season job of moving returns through the system.
And if you're expecting a refund, and yes, some late-season filers do get money back, sending it to the correct office will help you get that tax cash sooner.
So before you start addressing that envelope, check the IRS' interactive list of states to find where to send your 1040.
5. Be patient.
You might have more tax procrastinating neighbors than you realize. And you all might be in line at the same post office tomorrow. Or, if it's like my Post Office, it could simply be too small to handle the neighborhoods that have grown up around it.
Whatever the reason, if you have to wait to mail your taxes, take a deep breath and deal with it graciously. At least you're in the final stretch of filing your return.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Feeling the tax filing crunch? Get an extension
- 13 tax tips for the 2019 filing season's last weekend
- 10 tax tasks, including paying estimated taxes, to do by April 15