At the last minute

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

By Scott Moyers

Southeast Missourian

If you didn't know it when you walked in, then the long lines and long faces at the Cape Girardeau post office would have been a quick reminder -- Monday was Tax Day.

Even though the forms are mailed out months in advance, tens of millions of Americans wait until the last possible minute to get their personal income taxes into the mail, and local taxpayers proved no exception.

"I don't like to part with my money," said Darrell Welter of Scott City, Mo. "A lot of people will tell you this: If you owe, what's the rush?"

A lot of people did make similar comments, though there was also a red-faced mix of those who admitted simply to putting it off.

"I tend to procrastinate a lot," said Blake Caplan of Cape Girardeau. "I wish I didn't and I always tell myself I'm going to get it in early and it always comes to this. I'm even getting money back and look at me, late again."

These were just two of those who crowded the post office Monday afternoon, scribbling checks, clutching manila envelopes and dropping quarters into the stamp machine.

The Internal Revenue Service, which processes 132 million individual tax returns, expects 25-30 percent of those to come at the last minute, said Janice Lawrence, an IRS spokeswoman in St. Louis.

In Missouri, 2.5 million returns are filed each year, with 600,000-700,000 expected to have been filed Monday, Lawrence said. She said the reasons have been the same for many years.

"A lot of them actually have the return prepared, they just don't mail it," she said. "A lot of people want to hold onto their money. But for some people, putting it off is just something they do every year."

Those who didn't get their forms in the mail need to do so immediately, Lawrence said. Those who missed the deadline are responsible for two fees: a late file penalty and late pay penalty.

The late file fine charges taxpayers 5 percent of taxes owed for each month, or partial month, the return is late up to a maximum of 25 percent. The late pay fine adds a half-percent per month charge up to a maximum of 25 percent. A 6 percent interest rate is also added on.

Those who got their returns in the mail by Monday at midnight have nothing to worry about, said Cape Girardeau postmaster Mike Keefe. He said all mail will be postmarked April 15, which will stop any penalties from incurring.

50 percent busier

The post office closed at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Keefe said the post office used to extend lobby hours until midnight, but no longer.

"The traffic just didn't warrant it," he said. "Not enough people came in to justify it."

Keefe estimated that the post office was 50 percent busier Monday than it normally would have been. The post office brought in extra staffing and put more people at the service windows.

Keefe said he expected the local post office to handle between 20,000 and 30,000 tax returns Monday. Keefe echoed Lawrence in his thoughts on the last-minute filers.

"Some people say, 'Why would you want to send it in Jan. 3 if you owe money?'" he said. "Then there are the procrastinators. It's like that every year."

But it was the first time LaDonna Clymore of Anna, Ill., waited so long to mail her tax return.

"Usually I get it done in February," she said. "For some reason this year, it didn't seem to be a big concern."

David Gantt of Cape Girardeau said he intentionally holds off on paying his taxes until the last day.

"It's bad," he admitted. "People always want the government to pay them quickly, but they want to take their time to pay the government."

Richard Harter of Cape Girardeau said he'd rather the money sit in his interest-bearing bank accounts than being used by Uncle Sam. Like most others who filed Monday, Harter said people pay too much in taxes anyway.

"You don't even want to get me started," he said. "I could run a government a whole hell of a lot cheaper than they can."

335-6611, extension 137

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