By Johnny Jackson
The Internal Revenue Service reported, this week, that a record number of electronic tax returns -- 2.5 million -- have been filed already this year in Georgia.
As more taxpayers are turning to the electronic filing option, U.S. Postal Service officials have been reducing the number of area post offices open late on April 15 for those who wait until the last minute to mail paper returns.
"Over the past five years or so we've reduced the number of offices open late, just because the volume isn't there," said Michael Miles, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Atlanta. "We always advise that people try to avoid waiting until the last minute."
Having fewer offices open late, however, may mean a higher volume of traffic at post offices during normal hours.
Hampton Postmaster Jerry Sparks expects crowds similar to what his post office experienced last year.
"We had a real busy day on the 15th last year," Sparks said. "We're pretty much planning for about the same amount of traffic and customer load as last year."
The 26-year Postal Service veteran said business has gotten lighter on tax day, but marginally so, at the Hampton post office.
"Over the past few years, there have been some years that seem to be lighter and other years that are crowded again," he added. "April the 15th is pretty much like a day we'd have during the holiday season. We're seeing a good amount of traffic, even with electronic filing."
Sparks recommends that residents, even if they file on April 15, mail their returns early.
"The best advice I can give them is that, if you're going to wait until the 15th to mail them, do it early in the day," he said. "If you wait until late in the afternoon, when it is closing time at the post office, you may get caught up in the last-minute rush."
Some may not make that last-minute rush, said IRS Spokesman Mark Green, noting an estimated 300,000 Georgians will request an extension this year.
"Some people don't have all of their documents and have put off filing their returns," Green said. "Others may not file because they think they can't afford to pay their taxes now. [But] if you are unable to pay the total balance due, you should pay as much as possible and then contact the IRS about an installment plan."
Green said taxpayers should file their tax returns, or request an extension, to avoid the failure-to-file penalty even if they cannot pay the balance due.
"The late-filing penalty is 10 times greater than the late-payment penalty," he said. "The late-filing penalty is 5 percent per month, up to 25 percent, of the tax due. Paying as much as you can when you file your return will help reduce interest and penalty charges."
Green also stressed that there remain taxpayers who are owed money by the IRS. He said there is some $42 million in unclaimed refunds for Georgians who have not filed a 2006 tax return, and that those taxpayers must file a return, or an amended return, by the April 15 filing deadline in order to collect their share of the money.
U.S. Postal Service Atlanta District Manager Kate Wiley said there will be two post offices open until midnight during this year's last-minute filing crunch. The Atlanta Main Post Office, at 3900 Crown Road in Atlanta, and the Boggs Road Postal Store, at 1605 Boggs Road in Duluth, will open at 6 a.m., and 9 a.m., respectively on Thursday, April 15. Both will close their doors at midnight.
"By extending hours, we hope we can make the day a little less stressful for our customers," Wiley said. She recommends residents help expedite the mailing process by using stamp vending machines and Automated Postal Centers for stamp purchases, and that they double check returns for the proper address and correct postage.
Wiley said the McDonough post office, at 100 Postmaster Drive in McDonough, will be one of few area post offices open beyond 5 p.m., on Thursday, April 15. The post office will open at 8:30 a.m., and close at 6 p.m.
To find the business hours for other post offices, call 1 (800) ASK-USPS, or 1 (800) 275-8777. To learn more about tax refunds or filing for extensions with the IRS, call 1 (800) 829-1040.