“The Devil is in the detail”. At least that is the way I think the old idiom goes. This is especially true when dealing with the IRS. The mega sized IRS administration is so loaded down with Rules and Regulations it is a wonder it can stay afloat.
This makes it especially fun for taxpayers who are trying to prove they did something in the past that will help their case now.
A common problem that I see is the taxpayer who “knows” that he or she filed a tax return for a particular year and the IRS is claiming that it was never filed. The problems associated with this are numerous. Just a few of the common problems are listed here.
1. The taxpayer often has to do the return over again because they didn't keep a copy.
2. The statute of limitations on collection of the debt never started because the return was never “filed”.
3. The time frames necessary to meet bankruptcy requirements never start to run.
4. The IRS has often filed it's own return for the taxpayer and overstated the debt.
5. That IRS filed return is now being used to bludgeon the taxpayer with liens and levies.
6. That same IRS filed return has probably made it difficult if not impossible to discharge the tax debt even if corrected in bankruptcy.
If you are filing an IRS tax return and you are doing it on time or late, it makes sense as a result to make sure that you can prove the return was filed in the first place. A small but as you can see, very important detail.
So the question is how to do that?
File the Return Electronically
When you file the return on time, you can file it electronically if your taxpayer is set up to do this or if you use one of the online tax prep services. The IRS even has it's own service that allows certain taxpayers to file for free and electronically.
There are problems with e-filing, most of which have to do with getting the information correct on the return so that the system will accept it. For most though, e filing works well. It also allows you to easily prove that you filed on time because the return is usually marked with an “electronic postmark”, a time-stamp that attaches to the return.
Mailing it – US Postal Service
Many people just mail it in with a stamp. In my opinion if it is mailed to the right location, it almost always gets there. If filing it on time isn't that big of a deal, i.e. you are expecting a refund than if the IRS doesn't get it, you will eventually figure that out and re-send.
What if you are filing a return that will tell the IRS how much you owe? You want to ensure they receive it on time if possible and even if late filed, you want the “clocks' mentioned above to start running.
If you mail it – you could simply follow up to make sure you get a bill from the IRS within a few months. If one doesn't arrive, there is probably something wrong and you will need to send them in again.
Walking returns into the office
The IRS has local offices that will accept returns that are walked in. The nice thing about it other than waiting in line, is that they will take a copy and stamp another that shows not only when you filed, but what you filed as the stamp is on the front page of the return.
Many of our clients with late returns will walk the return in and get a stamped copy.
This is the best way to ensure the IRS gets the return and for purposes of proving that you filed it later.
Sending returns via certified mail
Really…what is the point of going to all the trouble? The certified mail receipt doesn't prove what was in the envelope does it?
Some people will put the certified mail receipt number on the first few pages of the return and the signature page and of course on both receipts and then copy the entire package of documents and the envelope in which it was sent.
Overkill? Usually yes. Some of us will be glad we did though.
We lead busy lives. Filing an income tax return doesn't really fit into our schedule. However, If a large debt is anticipated…it should be a priority.
Otherwise, that tiny detail, the inability to prove a return was filed, could become a “devil”.