Why You Use Certified Mail

A client was in IRS Appeals contesting the late filing penalty for his 2012 tax return. His return, which was ineligible for electronic filing, was on extension. The extension was timely electronically filed. The client believes he went to the Post Office and mailed his return on October 15, 2013. The IRS said it was mailed one week later. Unfortunately, in a move his records were lost by the movers. The problem is that if you don’t file timely (within the extension period), it’s as if you never had an extension!

The IRS Account Transcript shows the return was late filed. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained a copy of the Administrative Record for his return; that included a copy of the envelope he mailed the return in. It clearly shows the postage being purchased at a post office on October 15, 2013. The envelope has two postmarks: The original (purchased at a post office) and a second from halfway across the country a week later! Most likely, the Postal Service routed the envelope incorrectly, so it ended up going through the system twice. In any case, I showed the Appeals Officer the copy of the envelope, and he agrees that the return was timely filed (for purposes of the late filing penalty) and my client now owes nothing. (My client had already paid the tax, interest, and the late payment penalty.)

Yes, my client was lucky that the administrative record showed the envelope. Yes, it would have been easier had he still had the certified mail receipt (or had the movers not lost that particular box).

Consider what would have happened if he had not used certified mail (or the envelope had not been shown in the record): He would be writing a check for about $20,000. Certified mail costs $3.30 (a return receipt will add $1.35 or $2.70 to that cost depending on whether you have it emailed or mailed to you). Yes, you have to wait in line at a post office, but that’s well worth it when you compare the alternative.


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