As many of you have heard, the IRS reduced its staff and shut down many of its locations in an effort to keep its employees safe from COVID-19. As a result, its ability to process mail was greatly diminished. The IRS brought back employees as soon as it could safely do so, but it’s still not operating at full capacity and we anticipate the mail processing to remain delayed for a while.
Many taxpayers are able to e-file their returns and/or pay their taxes online; however, there are still things that must be mailed to the IRS. Some tax forms are unable to be e-filed, and many people mail in checks for taxes due with their returns or for 2020 estimated tax payments. Our tax system is ruled by due dates and sending something in late is often cause for penalties. That, combined with IRS delays in mail processing, means that it is extra important for a taxpayer to be able to prove they mailed something on time.
Congress established laws that determine whether a tax document is timely filed, and the IRS finalized Regulations with additional detail in 2011. The general rule, which is most commonly known, is the envelope containing the tax document must be postmarked on or before the prescribed due date, must be in a properly addressed envelope with adequate postage, and must actually be delivered to IRS in the U.S. mail.
Well, not always. The Regulations finalized in 2011 define delivery. In a nutshell, the only methods that allow a taxpayer to prove the four requirements (date of mailing, proper address, adequate postage, and actual delivery) are U.S. certified mail or U.S. registered mail. In addition, private delivery services may qualify as long as they meet the requirements as defined by the IRS.
What, you may ask, are the IRS requirements for private delivery services? They are listed on the IRS website and include only the following carriers: DHL Express, FedEx, and UPS. In addition, IRS defines which delivery services qualify and these are overwhelmingly either overnight or two-day. The qualifying services are listed on the same website:
Last but not least, most IRS form instructions list a PO Box as a mailing address, which doesn’t work for private delivery services. IRS provides private delivery addresses for several of its processing centers here:
In short, mailing items to the IRS using the U.S. certified mail, U.S. registered mail, or approved private delivery service and retaining the receipt is a relatively cheap insurance policy against processing delays that could result in IRS assessing late filing or payment penalties. And it’s awfully satisfying to be able to provide the proof when you need it.