Pound Wise, Penny Foolish

Robert Flach states this morning that using certified mail, return receipt requested, when mailing tax returns to tax agencies is a waste of time and money.

But the extra you spend to get a return receipt is a total waste of money. It means absolutely nothing – only that the IRS received an envelope from you that was postmarked on April 18th. It doesn’t hurt to do this (except your wallet) – but it really doesn’t help either.

Mr. Flach tells the story of an individual who mailed empty envelopes to his tax agencies every year on April 15th just so something ended up at the agencies. I’m sure that Mr. Flach agrees with me about the Bozo quality of that strategy.

But I strongly disagree with Mr. Flach’s contention that you should not use certified mail, return receipt requested. I have had four clients directly impacted by this. The first individual had his estimated tax payment end up with the fishes. He had mailed his estimated tax payment to PO Box 510000 in San Francisco back in September 2005; as a result of a traffic accident his payment (and thousands of others) ended up in San Francisco Bay instead of the US Treasury. My client had no problem making his replacement payment considered timely when he showed his certified mail receipt. (The IRS did later develop a procedure for anyone impacted by this accident.)

My second client had his tax return “eaten” by the US Postal Service. He mailed it certified mail, return receipt requested, and it apparently looked liked confetti when it arrived at the IRS. The envelope, or what was left of it, showed up in late May. My client was able to resend his return, check, and a copy of his certified mail receipt, and the IRS considered the return and payment timely.

My third client filed electronically on October 15th (he had filed an extension), but his return was rejected. He then mailed his return to the IRS, with proof of the rejection, and used certified mail, return receipt requested. The IRS then attempted to impose the late filing penalty (claiming that the return was filed after the deadline for rejected e-filed returns). After sending the IRS a copy of the certified mail receipt, the IRS rescinded that penalty.

Unfortunately, my fourth client fell on to the Bozo side of things. He did not use certified mail, return receipt requested, and his tax return to a state tax agency vanished. As I note in one of my Bozo Tax Tips, he did save $2.42. He also paid over $1000 in penalties.

Yes, I’m sure that people use the Bozo strategy that Mr. Flach mentioned. But for the honest taxpayers (hopefully, all of us), not using certified mail, return receipt requested, when communicating with a tax agency is just Bozo.

2 Responses to “Pound Wise, Penny Foolish”

    • Russ says:

      True, but whether it’s $5.15 or $2.42 doesn’t matter: It’s a wise investment when you’re filing a complex return.