Do IRS Employees Know the Postmark Rule?

So what’s the postmark rule?  The IRS notes this on their website:

Your return is considered filed on time if the envelope is properly addressed, has enough postage, is postmarked, and is deposited in the mail by the due date. If you file electronically, the date and time in your time zone when your return is transmitted controls whether your return is filed timely.

Of course, the IRS website doesn’t govern; the Tax Code and regulations promulgated under the Code do.  And here the IRS website exactly matches the law under IRC Section 7502 and 26 CFR § 301.7502-1.  So why aren’t IRS employees aware of this rule?  Let me first explain why I’m asking.

We normally file business return extensions electronically.  However, every year there are a few that must be paper-filed (mailed to the IRS).  On March 11th we mailed an extension for an S-Corporation (call it Acme).  The IRS had yet to process Acme’s S-Corporation election paperwork; when I attempted to e-file the extension, it failed.  So we mailed it certified mail, return receipt to the IRS on March 11th; it was received at the IRS in Ogden, Utah on March 17th.  This past week, Acme received a letter from the IRS stating we cannot accept your extension because it was filed after the deadline.

The owner of Acme was, of course, upset with me until he saw that I did file the extension timely; eventually the extension will end up being valid.  But (a) I had to waste time on a conversation with the owner of Acme, (b) the IRS wasted time and money in sending out the notice, and (c) will waste additional time removing the penalty and noting the extension was timely filed.

And I’m not alone in having clients impacted by this.  On Twitter, another tax professional noted he’s been receiving a “steady stream” of notices denying extensions for business returns.  Why has this happened?

I can only think of two reasons: either the IRS is separating envelopes from extensions (so that the IRS employee processing the mailed extension has no idea when it was mailed and only knows the receipt date) or the IRS employee processing the extensions aren’t aware of the rule.  Neither of these reasons is acceptable, but it appears that’s the reality today.

What does this mean for taxpayers?  First, you must use certified mail, return receipt requested in sending anything to the IRS (or any other tax agency) by mail.  Yes, my envelope mailed on March 11th from Las Vegas should have made it to Ogden by the 15th (it’s about a 6 1/2 hour drive from my office) but it didn’t.  Because I have proof of the postmark there won’t be any issues (in the long run).  Had I not mailed it certified mail, there would be no proof.  Given current IRS practices, this is essential.  Second, where possible e-file.  With electronic filing, there’s absolute proof of the date and time of filing.

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