- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

The last-minute rush is on as more than 6 million taxpayers try to beat the midnight deadline tonight for filing their tax returns.

U.S. Postal Service and tax preparation offices are staying open late to serve procrastinators.

The IRS estimates that an average of 10 percent of taxpayers wait until the last day to file their returns or to request extensions.

“This is a painful thing to do,” said Carlos Perozo, an H&R; Block tax preparation service district manager, explaining why so many taxpayers wait until the April 15 deadline.

The company’s office at 1701 K St. NW has been open from 8 a.m. to about 11 p.m. in recent days or “until the last client is gone,” Mr. Perozo said.

Taxpayers entering or leaving tax preparation offices yesterday gave a variety of reasons for their delays.

“I worked two jobs all winter,” said Heidi Stewart, a tourism sales representative, as she waited in the Liberty Tax Service office at 1103 Bladensburg Road NE. “By the time I got a day off, it was down to the wire.”

Lisa Martin, a self-employed arts event planner who had her taxes prepared by H&R; Block, blamed a schedule conflict and a business associate for her delay.

“I also was waiting for one tax document that never arrived,” she said.

Millie Austin, a law firm accounts coordinator who paid $400 to have her tax returns prepared, blamed herself for being a “procrastinator.”

The Liberty Tax Service office on Bladensburg Road stayed open all of last night to handle customers.

“We had so much fun last year when we tried it, we decided to do it again,” said Margaret Carter, the franchise owner, who said “just a few truckers” stopped by to complete their tax returns last year.

The U.S. Postal Service has set up a customer-service command center that expects to answer more than 500,000 phone calls today as taxpayers search for post offices that will stay open until midnight.

On most days, Postal Service customer-service agents handle about 150,000 calls at 800/ASK-USPS. Information also is available on the Internet at www.usps.com.

At the Curseen-Morris post office at 900 Brentwood Road NE, the Postal Service has arranged for professional clowns to hang out in front of the building today.

“They’ll be greeting people who come in to mail their taxes and they’ll be giving out goodie bags,” said Deborah Yackley, D.C.-area Postal Service spokeswoman.

The bags will be packed with water bottles, peanuts and popcorn.

The IRS advises against missing the deadline tonight, even for taxpayers expecting to receive a refund.

Although taxpayers can claim their refunds for three years after April 15, they risk penalties and interest on tax bills if they miscalculate their taxes.

“What if somebody’s wrong?” asked IRS spokesman John Lipold. “What if they actually do owe some tax?”

Mark Steber, vice president of tax resources for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, said he would not be surprised if last-minute tax filers make mistakes on their returns.

Being “crunched for time” makes it more likely “to overlook deductions, to overlook credits and then to make common mistakes,” he said.

He recommends filing via the Internet for anyone concerned about missing the midnight deadline for sending tax returns through the mail.

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