- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Hundreds of taxpayers rushed to their local post offices yesterday to mail their income tax forms and their checks to the federal government by the midnight deadline.
After finishing the paperwork, they slogged through wind and rain to stand in line to send their returns to the Internal Revenue Service and, if they lived there, to the Maryland and Washington, D.C. governments. Most of the late filers, however, didn't have any regrets for waiting until the last minute.
"I can never get around to filing my taxes unless I have a deadline," said Monica Surratt, 47, of Northwest. "But I don't mind waiting in line. I just do it when I'm pressed to do it. I hate giving my money away."
This year, last-minute filers got an extra two days to get their tax forms in order since April 15, the traditional filing deadline, fell on a Saturday. Virginia filers get until May 1.
Some filers used every minute of that additional time, like Charles McConnell who filled out his forms seven hours before deadline.
"I can't help it," the 65-year-old Northeast man said. "I've always done my taxes like that. I never file early. I can only work on them the day they're due."
Mr. McConnell is not alone. The IRS says about 40 percent of taxpayers wait to file their taxes until the day they are due. The IRS estimated that 47 percent of D.C. residents filed their taxes within the last several days. About a third of them filed for a four-month extension, the IRS says.
Most of those taxpayers wait until the last minute because they owe money, while some just procrastinate, said Sam Serio, an IRS spokesman.
"Most of them don't want to mail in a check or forms until they have to," Mr. Serio said. "Those who don't owe money send their forms in right away so they can get their refunds quickly."
Nationally, about 61 percent of taxpayers had filed their taxes as of last week, Mr. Serio said.
Postal workers were busy throughout the day yesterday, helping customers speed up the process of mailing out the returns. Some post offices in the District, Virginia and Maryland stayed open until midnight to serve the steady stream of procrastinators. Some post offices invited IRS volunteers to set up shop in their lobbies and help the truly desperate with their taxes.
On a typical day, the postal service processes about 90 million pieces of first-class mail nationwide. On tax day, the service processes an extra 27 million pieces of mail, said Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service.
"We're always ready when tax day rolls around," Ms. Yackley said.
Mr. Serio said he believes the postal service may see fewer customers this year because of the extra two days taxpayers had to fill out and mail in their paperwork.
In fact, several of the tax agency's satellite offices saw fewer people seeking help on their taxes yesterday. At a satellite office on North Capitol Street yesterday, Mr. Serio said tax advisers helped about 200 people, half the number the office saw on tax day over the last few years.
"The later filing date had an impact because some people spread it over the weekend," Mr. Serio said. "So we were not hit by any rush."
Tax preparers also seemed to have seen fewer clients yesterday than in years past.
"It's not a mad, mad rush," said Ann Sarles, a district manager for the Alexandria, Va. office of H&R; Block. "But we always have some last-minute clients who come in to have their taxes done several hours before deadline."
Ms. Sarles believes most taxpayers took advantage of the weekend to get their taxes done. Still, she expected to see more people come in to get help as the deadline approached.
"Some people could forget about the deadline because it hasn't been on the news at all," Ms. Sarles said. "Whenever you turn on the news, all you hear about is Elian [Gonzalez] and the IMF protests. If people don't hear about the tax deadline approaching, they don't think about it." That's what happened to Theresa Young, of Northeast, who was one of many standing in line at the National Capitol post office.
Mrs. Young, 33, said she usually depends on the newscasts to remind her of the tax deadline. This year, she said she heard about the census deadline but nothing on taxes.
"I just simply forgot," the mother of two said. "It's my fault for not remembering. I probably would be at home right now if my mother didn't remind me to file. And that would be bad."

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