Extra day file seems to affect few tax procrastinators

April 17, 2001|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Memo to Uncle Sam: There's no point in giving procrastinators an extra day to file their taxes.

Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders waited until yesterday to mail their tax returns, enduring chilly, damp weather and lines at post offices to beat the midnight filing deadline.

It didn't seem to matter that taxpayers had an extra day to finish, since the traditional April 15 due date fell on a Sunday.

Late yesterday afternoon, the main post office at 900 E. Fayette St. in downtown Baltimore - the tax dawdler's mecca because it stays open until midnight on the filing deadline - saw a constant trickle of people seeking stamps, envelopes, tax forms and help.

One of the stragglers was Phillip Trent, who double-parked and popped into the post office to mail his tax returns with hours to spare.

"I just didn't have time to do it, with work and all," Trent, 40, of Baltimore, said.

And was there any other reason? "I owe. I owe," he said.

"We usually get a big surge at the end because people who owe taxes wait until the last day to file," said Michael Golden, spokesman for the state comptroller's office.

About 2 million state income returns had been filed by yesterday morning, Golden said, a 2 percent improvement over last year, when taxpayers had one less day. State officials expected about 400,000 returns to be mailed by midnight.

Jim Dupree, spokesman for the Baltimore field office of the Internal Revenue Service, estimated that as many as 1 million Marylanders waited until the last minute to file their more complicated federal income tax returns.

Hundreds of last-minute filers flocked to IRS offices in downtown Baltimore for help, and the agency planned to staff a table at the main post office last night.

Lobby director Talia Ferro said the late-filing rush as of late afternoon had not been as heavy as previous years. That might stem, in part, from the growing numbers filing electronically.

IRS officials projected that nearly one in three federal income returns - or about 42 million of 130 million - would be filed electronically this year. Last year, the agency received about 35 million such returns. The state comptroller's office has received about 500,000 electronic returns, of the 2.4 million expected, Golden said.

Some taxpayers, though, came to the main post office yesterday looking for help even a computer probably couldn't provide.

Cecil Harris of East Baltimore hunched over a table in the lobby as he tried to fill out Form 1040 for the first time. Harris, 22, said he came to the post office to do his taxes after his shift ended at the plant where he works.

"It's one thing I don't like doing," he said, puzzling over the form.

Letter carriers and mail handlers in orange safety vests stood on both sides of Fayette Street to provide drop-off service for stragglers, who wanted to ensure filings got a April 16 postmark, proving they were not delinquent.

"I think the world has a lot of procrastinators," said Erica Smith, a letter carrier. "My taxes have been filed - and spent - a long time ago."

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