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Get your paper tax return to your local post office safely

If you still file a paper tax return by mailing it to the Internal Revenue Service, know where you're going on Tax Day. It could save your life.

A recent analysis of driving habits on April 15 (or whatever day tax returns must be filed; it's April 17 this year) found that auto fatalities spike on Tax Day.

Blue_mailbox2So that your tax-filing trip is a bit safer, use the U.S. Postal Service's online post office locator. You can find the post office closest to you, check out its hours of operation and map a route there.

And here are some more snail mail tax tips to keep you from going postal this filing season.

The IRS recognizes an official postmark as proof that a return has been mailed by the filing deadline. The Postal Service offers three mailing options that fit the IRS timely mailed/timely filed rule:

  • Express Mail, which delivers the next day. It includes online tracking and signature at delivery.
  • Priority Mail, which promises delivery in an average of two to three days. If you use this, better get your 1040 done soon.
  • First-Class Mail, which has the same delivery window as Priority Mail.

I don't quite understand the apparent duplicate services of Priority Mail and First-Class Mail either. It reminds me of auto manufacturers who essentially made the same car under several nameplates, essentially cannibalizing their products. We saw how well that worked for them. But I digress.

Some mailing options offer proof of delivery, such as certified mail or return receipt. Ask your post office for details.

If you drop your return into a curbside mailbox or collection chute inside the post office, make sure the posted pick-up time is before your deadline.

If you're just sticking on stamps yourself, be sure to use sufficient postage. If your envelope feels like it might weigh more than 1 ounce, add another stamp. Or go to a window worker or self-service kiosk and weigh your tax return to be sure you affix the appropriate postage.

Tax returns without enough stamps will be returned and that means your filing will be late, starting the late-filing penalty and interest clocks ticking.

And speaking of returned, be sure to put your return address on your envelope. If it is deemed undeliverable, at least you'll know that when it shows back up at your house. Otherwise your tax material will just be out there in postal never-land, again running up tax penalties and interest.

Mail your return to the correct tax return processing center. The IRS is always shuffling duties to make more efficient use of personnel, so some service centers handle returns from different parts of the country than they previously did.

Since the IRS is no longer mailing out return packages with pre-addressed envelopes, check the mailing addresses listed in your tax form instruction booklet. Or use the IRS' interactive map to find where to send your 1040. Note that the IRS usually has different addresses depending on whether you're sending in a 1040 and a tax payment or filing your forms and don't owe any tax.

Finally, be patient, especially if you decide to throw roadway caution to the wind and head to your post office next Tuesday. Even though most taxpayers e-file, there are still plenty of traditionalists and post offices nationwide are usually busier than usual on Tax Day.

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