Proving that Returns were Delivered to the IRS on Time

A recent court case points out what it takes to prove a return was timely filed. A little extra care now can prevent lots of grief later on – here’s what you need to know:

A tax filing is not complete until the document is delivered and received, and the taxpayer bears the burden of proving that this has happened. Below are statutory proof-of-filing methods:

  • USPS Regular First Class Mail – When a return arrives late but is postmarked by the USPS before the due date, the postmark date is treated as the delivery date and the return is considered timely filed if the postmark date is on or before the applicable deadline. This is the so-called timely-mailing-equals-timely-filing rule, but the taxpayer must make and keep a copy of the postmarked envelope to qualify. Taxpayers often fail to take this step. Also, this rule doesn’t apply to a return not required to be filed, such as an amended return.
  • USPS Registered Mail – Registration of a USPS mailing can constitute proof of timely filing. The registration date on the receipt given to the sender is treated as the postmark date for purposes of satisfying the timely-mailing-equals-timely-filing rule.
  • USPS Certified Mail – IRS regulations that allow USPS certified mailings to satisfy the proof-of-timely-filing requirement. The postmark on the receipt given to the sender by the postal employee is treated as the postmark date for purposes of meeting the timely-mailing-equals-timely-filing rule.
  • IRS-approved E Filings – IRS regulations allow electronic filings to satisfy the proof-of-timely-filing requirement. The date of an electronic postmark given by an authorized return transmitter is deemed to be the filing date for an electronically filed return for purposes of meeting the timely-mailing-equals-timely-filing rule. An electronic postmark is the record of the date and time that an authorized return transmitter receives the transmission of a taxpayer’s document on its host system. If the taxpayer and the authorized transmitter are in different time zones, the time in the taxpayer’s zone is considered the controlling time.
  • IRS-approved Private Delivery Services – The statute provides that using an IRS-approved Private Delivery Service (PDS) can satisfy the proof-of-timely-filing requirement. Notice 2004-83 specifies that the following services are IRS-approved:
    1. DHL Express same-day service.
    2. Federal Express priority overnight, standard overnight, 2nd day, international priority, and international first services.
    3. UPS next day air, next day air saver, 2nd day air, 2nd day air AM, worldwide express, and worldwide express plus services.

When filing returns, large tax payments, and other important tax filings we recommend using USPS registered mail, USPS certified mail, IRS-approved electronic filing, or an IRS-approved PDS. Another important step, often neglected, is to retain proof of the method of your choosing, ie: postmarked receipt from the post office or a copy of the shipping label or racking receipt for items sent via a PDS.