If you’re planning on filing your federal income tax return in the next few days, you’re not alone: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says some 50 million taxpayers have yet to file (as of April 12, 2019). 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’re not quite ready just yet and are skimming this article in the hopes that I’ll offer you the tax prep equivalent of magic beans, I’ll stop you right now. If you’re not ready to file your return, don’t panic, just file for an extension. But if you are ready to file, here’s what you need to know:
File timely. If you plan to file a paper return or pay by check, be sure to put the return and/or check in first-class mail by the due date, April 15, 2019. Assuming all goes well, you’ll have filed timely.
Keep proof of filing. But what if the IRS claims that it doesn’t receive your return? What then? Saying that you tossed the envelope into the post box doesn’t help you in that case. It’s impossible to prove that you mailed something on time without documentation. And the IRS loves documentation. Your best bet? Get documentation.
The law that governs timely filed returns can be found at 26 USC §7502(c). It says that registered mail “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 “the date of registration shall be deemed the postmark date.” Prima facie evidence is a fancy way of saying sufficient proof (remember, lawyers love Latin). In other words, the IRS will only accept registered (or certified mail per the Regs) as sufficient proof of mailing.
So 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. The only real proof through the mail is certified or registered mail. So keep that in mind when you’re standing in line at the post office. It’s only a couple of extra dollars to send mail certified or registered and doing so is proof that you mailed the return when you said that you did.
Mail your return to the right address. The IRS also requires that you properly address your tax form. To do that, you’ll want to match where you live and whether you’re enclosing payment with the correct address.
If you live inside of the 50 states, use these addresses:
If you live outside of the 50 states, use these addresses:
However, if you live in American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands, see IRS Pub 570, Tax Guide for Individuals With Income From U.S. Possessions (downloads as a PDF).
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.
Use the right postage. You’ll also want to make sure you have the correct postage. Assuming you don’t upgrade to certified or registered, regular first-class postage is 55 cents, but according to the USPS, “[m]ost tax returns are several pages long and weigh more than 1 oz. Tax returns sent without enough postage will be returned.”
While you need that postmark by April 15, that doesn’t mean that you have to be out the door by 6:00 p.m. The US Post Office has extended hours on Tax Day at some locations to make life easier. You can use the Post Office locator on their site to figure out the hours of those post offices near located near you.
Double-check private delivery services. If you don’t want to rely on the post office, you can also use a private delivery service to file your tax return. The IRS will consider your return timely filed if you use one of these private delivery services:
- DHL Express: DHL Express 9:00, DHL Express 10:30, DHL Express 12:00, DHL Express Worldwide, DHL Express Envelope, DHL Import Express 10:30, DHL Import Express 12:00, DHL Import Express Worldwide
- FedEx: FedEx First Overnight; FedEx Priority Overnight; FedEx Standard Overnight; FedEx 2 Day; FedEx International Next Flight Out; FedEx International Priority; FedEx International First; and FedEx International Economy.
- UPS: UPS Next Day Air Early AM; 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. To figure out which address to use, locate your service center using the “regular” address filing table above and find the physical address below (or click here for more info):
If you’re sending payment along with your filing, make your check or money order payable to “United States Treasury” for the amount due. Write “2018 Form 1040” and your Social Security Number on your payment. If you are filing a joint return, enter the Social Security Number shown first on your tax return. You’ll also want to include your name, address, and daytime phone number – it might already be on your check. Don’t attach the payment to your return using staples or paper clips. Instead, just include it loose, together with a completed form 1040-V (downloads as a pdf) in your envelope.
(And for the love of Pete, do not send cash. If you want to pay in cash, find out how here.)
File even if you don’t have the cash to pay. If you don’t have money to cover your entire tax bill, you should still send in your tax return. You can make arrangements by paying with a credit card or setting up an installment payment.
E-file your return. You can avoid all of the post office hassles by e-filing your return 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. Payment options remain the same.
Help is available. If you run into trouble this weekend, help is available. The IRS will keep its toll-free telephone service lines open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time on Monday, April 15, to assist taxpayers. Be prepared wait, though, since the IRS expects to receive nearly 20 million tax returns in the last week of tax season. For most taxpayers, the best number to call is 1.800.829.1040.
File for an extension. If you’re still not ready to file your tax return? File for an extension. It’s free and easy. The IRS expects to receive about 14.6 million extension requests from taxpayers. For more on filing for an extension, click here.