As we've reminded everyone, April 17 (Tuesday) is the deadline for filing federal income tax returns. It's also the deadline for filing income tax returns in most states. Our friend Alan Greenblatt tells about something he finds surprising:
There was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot at the post office in Richmond Heights, Mo., on Monday. Most people were there to send off packages or passport applications, but a surprising number showed up to mail their tax returns.
The number of people who still file by mail has gone way down, especially after the Internal Revenue Service stopped mailing out paper forms last year. But there are still a few million people who file their returns the old-fashioned way.
Matt Peters, an investment adviser in Richmond Heights, just doesn't trust e-filing.
"I'm not sure if it's sent or not when I fill it all out, and I'm not sure it's safe," he said.
Instead, Peters prints out hard copies — one to keep and one to mail. On Monday, he went so far as to take a picture of his postmarked return. But he didn't spring to send his returns via certified mail.
"Some people have that sense that it's a badge of honor, and 'I'm going to do it myself,' " said Julie Miller, spokeswoman for Intuit, which publishes TurboTax software. "But doing it by hand, like churning your own butter, is not the simplest way."
Actually, Steve Xu, a student at nearby Washington University, says he uses TurboTax to figure out his taxes, but nonetheless he still mails his Missouri returns. TurboTax software, he points out, charges a fee for e-filing state returns.
Missouri is one of 37 states that, along with the District of Columbia, participate in a free federal/state e-filing program along with the IRS. States have tried to get more people to file online, but many still lag behind the feds.
The state of Maryland, for instance, expects that nearly 30 percent of its filers will still file by mail this year. This coming weekend, if you're not doing anything and happen to be in Annapolis, you can participate in "Super Saturday" — the day the comptroller's office brings in volunteers just to help open up the huge piles of returns.
"The number of paper returns is way down, but there are still a lot of envelopes that come in," said Joseph Shapiro, spokesman for Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Of course, people who file by mail — just like those who file electronically — tend to wait until the last minute. Peters, the investment adviser, says he hates filling out taxes so much that he kept procrastinating, even though he's expecting a refund of about $5,000.
Fredrick Morehouse waited even longer. Morehouse, a distribution clerk at St. Mary's Health Center, showed up at the Richmond Heights Post Office on Monday without his tax returns even completed. But he bought stamps anyway with the intention of mailing them off Tuesday morning.
He guessed at the weight. "I got four, just in case," he said.