Thursday, April 21, 2011


I realize I am too late to make a difference for this tax filing season, but I must take exception to the advice provided by my blogging buddy Joe Kristan in his post “Don’t Waste Your Tax Prep Fee by Cheaping Out on Postage” at the ROTH AND COMPANY TAX UPDATE, a true rarity (except for the issue of tax preparer registration).

Joe says –

If you aren't filing electronically, now isn't the time to cheap out. You ought to spring for the extra $5.10 to file your return ‘
certified mail, return receipt requested’. It's well worth the time and trouble of going to the post office to get that postmarked receipt.”

I agree it was very important to make sure that your tax returns, or extension applications, were postmarked by midnight on April 18th. I point out the importance in my April 18th TAX TIP at However you shouldn’t waste your time by waiting on a humongous line or your money by paying extra for ‘certified mail, return receipt requested’.

You should not simply have put your envelopes in a mailbox on the street. You should have gone to a post office branch and mailed the envelopes inside the branch – more better actually handing the envelopes to a postal clerk at the window (if the line was not out the door).

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.

At one of the many continuing education seminars I attended years ago a participant told the story of a colleague who sent an envelope to the IRS, and his state tax agency, on the 15th of every month of the year, paying for “certified mail, return receipt requested”. This way, he believed, if any correspondence or form was ever actually sent late, or lost, or actually never sent, he would have a green card signed by the IRS or the state to prove that it had been timely filed and received by the IRS. The participant did not say if this strategy ever worked.

I believe the IRS will give more weight to a statement, given under penalty of perjury, that the envelope was delivered to the post office by the due date than to a return receipt card. As the above story indicated, all the green card indicates is that an envelope sent on the 15th, or 18th, of the month was received by the IRS – it does not indicate that the envelope contained the actual return or form in question.

I would be interested to hear from fellow tax preparers of any instances where the green return receipt card actually worked in proving timely filing to the IRS?



Hal Leahy said...

The US Tax Court will accept a return receipt as proof of timely filing.

See Pennington T.C. Summary Opinion 2010-144, which gives furthr cites.

"Where a return is sent by registered or certified mail, the registration or certification is prima facie evidence of delivery and the date of registration or certification is deemed the postmark date. Sec. 7502(c); sec. 301.7502-1(c)(2), Proced. & Admin. Regs."

Also see Hazel T.C. Memo. 2008-134

which states that a receipt would have been proof that a return was timely filed.

"Petitioner offered no evidence to corroborate his testimony that he timely filed his return or that he was incapacitated. He did not present a certified mail receipt or copy of the return allegedly filed in 2002."

Anthony said...

Yes, what Hal said. The green card creates a rebuttable presumption.

If that guy who sent the empty envelopes to the IRS ever tried to use those green cards to claim that he mailed something on time, he might get away with it. Then again, maybe the IRS keeps records of blank envelopes that get sent to them, in which case that guy could possibly go to jail for fraud and/or perjury and/or tax evasion.

In any case, I seem to remember a recent tax court case where a contemporaneous log was considered sufficient evidence of timely mailing. Anyone know the case I'm thinking of?

Personally, I use the contemporaneous log method for my own returns, but recommend certified mail to my clients. For my clients the extra cost for certified mail (I don't see the advantage of the return receipt) likely justifies the extra fees it would cost should they have to take their case all the way to tax court.

Anthony said...

Ed Zollars posted an excellent summary of the applicable law and case law regarding the timely filing rule (at least as of October 2005):

After reading it, I think I'm going to go back to using certified mail (no return receipt) for any situation where the cost of being late is more than $250 or so.

Thomas Scanlon, CPA said...


Interesting post and comments.

We have always suggested clients use certified mail return receipt. We have had situations where the tax authorities have questioned the timeliness of the filing and have produced the green card.

In one situation, back when the returns were mailed in, an elderly client put the check payable to the IRS in with the state return and the check payable to the state in with the IRS return. It took us about 9 months to sort this out. We produced the green cards along with a narrative of what happened to get the penalties abated.

I hope you enjoyed your time off at the shore.


Tom Scanlon