If you’re planning on filing your federal income tax return in the next few days, you’re not alone: statistically, about a quarter of all returns are mailed in the last week of tax season. No matter how close to the wire you get, as long as your return is postmarked by April 15, the IRS considers your federal income tax return filed on time.
If you mail your return via first class mail by the due date and it is received and processed, you’re fine.
But what if the IRS claims that it doesn’t receive your return? What then? First class mail doesn’t help you in that case. It’s sort of impossible to prove that you mailed something on time without documentation to the contrary. And the IRS loves documentation.
The answer can be found in the Tax Code. The law that governs timely filed returns can be found at 26 USC §7502(c):
For purposes of this section, if any return, claim, statement, or other document, or payment, is sent by United States registered mail—
(A) such registration shall be prima facie evidence that the return, claim, statement, or other document was delivered to the agency, officer, or office to which addressed; and
(B) the date of registration shall be deemed the postmark date.
(2) Certified mail; electronic filing
The Secretary is authorized to provide by regulations the extent to which the provisions of paragraph (1) with respect to prima facie evidence of delivery and the postmark date shall apply to certified mail and electronic filing.
Prima facie evidence is a fancy way of saying sufficient proof (remember, we attorneys love Latin). In other words, the IRS will only accept registered or certified mail as sufficient proof of mailing. If you mail your tax return via first class mail and it gets there, awesome. You’re good. But if it doesn’t? You have zero proof. Zero. The only real proof (via USPS) is certified or registered mail. So keep that in mind when you’re standing in line. It’s only a couple of extra dollars to send certified or registered and doing so is proof that you mailed the return when you said that you did.
As to where to mail your form 1040, here’s a quick look at the IRS chart:
And while you need that postmark by April 15, that doesn’t mean that you have to be out the door by 6:00pm. The US Post Office has extended hours on Tax Day at some locations to make life easier. You can use their handy dandy locator to figure out which offices near you will remain open late.
You can also use a private delivery service to file your tax return. Per the 1040 instructions, the IRS considers the following private delivery services as acceptable to meet the timely filed rule: DHL Express (DHL): DHL Same Day Service; Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx 2Day, FedEx International Priority, and FedEx International First; United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air, UPS Next Day Air Saver, UPS 2nd Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air A.M., UPS Worldwide Express Plus, and UPS Worldwide Express. Remember that most private delivery services cannot deliver to a PO box so double check physical delivery addresses with IRS.
If you’re filing a return other than a form 1040, including a 1040EZ, 1040NR or 1040A, check the IRS website for the best addresses.
Remember, your return is only considered timely filed if it’s mailed to the right place by the right time so double check those addresses. You’ll also want to make sure you have the right postage: stamps are now $0.49 with each additional ounce an extra $0.21 (rates went up in January of this year).
Of course, you can avoid all of the post office hassle by e-filing your return in order to file on time. The IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file: it saves time and, according to IRS, your return is likely to be more accurate. There is a free e-file option for all taxpayers.
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