Does the IRS really check postmarks on incoming tax returns?

If you got a deadline extension for your 2011 tax returns, like I did, your returns were due yesterday, October 15th.

While preparing and mailing my returns I was reminded of something that comes to my mind every tax season, especially when I watch those midnight crowds swarming inside the post office to secure that crucial last-date postmark.

My question: Does the IRS really check the postmarks of every incoming return and sort out the ones that are postmarked as little as a day or two late? I mean really, their processing centers must be getting a torrent of mail every day for a week before and after the due date. Would they really bother sorting the one marked the 16th from the ones marked the 15th?

Anybody know?

Yes, they pay attention. A scan/photocopy of the envelope (including the postmark) becomes part of the IRS’s records on a tax return.

They seem to be somewhat lenient about things dated on the 16th, but I wouldn’t count on it.

April 15, I wouldn’t worry about it. They get tons of things all at the same time and who is going to check the postmark of every single return? I wouldn’t worry about a couple of days. The big scene at the p.o. filmed every year is a news story.

But if you got an extension, there’s going to be a lot lower volume. They can check, and if they wanted to nail you–and there are people they want to nail–then that’s a way.

I still wouldn’t worry about one day late, but I would sure try to get it in on time.

I’ve mailed my return, a couple times, on April 15th after the boxes last pick up time. It would have gotten a 16th post mark. Never heard a peep from the IRS. I always get a refund anyhow. The IRS might react differently if I owed money.

A couple-three years ago, I sent in my returns several days late, like on the 18th. The IRS didn’t make a peep about it. My state revenue department nailed me with a $20 fine, though.

As I understand it, the midnight crowd of last-minute tax return mailers is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. More and more people are filing electronically so now maybe there’ll be virtual crowds that’ll crash the IRS servers on April 15…

The IRS reports that 93.4 million individual tax returns were e-filed in 2010. Bad times to be the postal service.

The make it up during the end of the year:

Granted, things have changed since 2006. However, as a regular user of USPS services with actual post office visits, it’s mayhem at the end of the year with long lines and long waits. Quite a bit of “stuff” just cannot fit into an email or tweet.

Yes. The post office is moving from letter delivery to package delivery. They can usually deliver for less than other carriers.

Back in the day when I still filed by mail, I tested that theory. Never heard a peep, one time I owned money, one time I got a refund, neither activated their radar. Now, of course I always get a refund and efile and have my money in February or March at the latest.

I don’t know how the USPS fares in this regard, but in the UK it’s pretty rare for the date on a postmark to be legible, between blurring, poor inking and (increasingly) no postmark being applied whatsoever.

Also, does this mean that you have to put a stamp on the envelope to file your return? I don’t file my own taxes, but in my experience most government forms in the UK come with pre-paid envelopes. Pre-paid envelopes never get postmarked at all.

The IRS does not pay postage, so yes a stamp is required.

Just in case there’s confusion: on a personal return, there would never be penalties or interest if the IRS owes you money. So a late filing when you have a refund would not generate any kind of letter to let you know the IRS thought it was late. Penalties and interest only apply when there is a balance due, so it’s only in this case that you’d know whether the IRS was enforcing the filing deadline.

Yeah, my crazy mom and aunt get their taxes done on April 15th every year around 10 or 11 pm. Then they drive over to St. Louis where they keep the post office open all night. They claim that if you get in line before midnight, it doesn’t even matter whether their returns get mailed on the 16th, it counts as being filed on time.

This whole story sounds pretty ridiculous to me, but apparently the line at the post office is a mile long every April 15th, so at least they aren’t the only ones who believe it.

Slightly off-topic, but we efiled late one year (my son’s return, his college investments are in his name). That year, his investments happened to have performed fairly well and “he” owed a couple hundred dollars in taxes. With getting our returns done electronically (we were owed a refund), I simply forgot to file his.

I filed it a week or so late.

Never heard a peep from the IRS.

I suspect there are some thresholds below which they simply don’t bother pursuing penalties.

Though of course, in a few years, he may be applying for jobs, which require a background check and then it’ll go like this:
“What’s this, Mr. Zappa-Knig? You owe the IRS a penalty and years of accrued interest from a tax debt in 2003!!!”.
“Um, what? I was 7 years old!”.

The incoming mail clerks at the IRS, that’s who. That’s their job.

They might not have bothered much in the past, but with current technology it’s easy. They scan every envelope, and that’s part of the file. (Along with scans of the return itself & all attachments. The IRS workers don’t use the physical paper return much at all anymore.)

But the postmark doesn’t matter in most cases. Like if you have a refund due. Or if you owe only a small amount. Or if it’s only a day or two late.

The Master Speaks

(you guys must be slipping for this to have gone on so long without a link)

On a sort of connected note –

Last year for reasons too tedious to go into* I overstated my estimated tax payments by $2. I got a letter from the IRS describing the issue and then saying the amount was so small I didn’t need to send them a check for it. So it does seem that for trivial amounts (i.e., those for which the processing costs would exceed the added revenue) the IRS doesn’t bother.

For the same reason* I overstated my state tax estimated payments by $1. The Illinois Department of Revenu sent me a form letter and demanded I pay them their dollar. This perhaps explains a bit of why Illinois is in such financial trouble.

  • I used H&R Block At Home software. It appears that instead of totalling my estimated payments and then rounding to the nearest dollar, they reounded each payment and then totalled.

It’s interesting that the IRS would pass on their $2. One of my payroll clients once received a letter demanding payment of $0.24.