IRS ends mailing booklets for paper tax returns
By Thomas Olson
Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011
Irene Furst grew tired of waiting for her 1040 federal income tax booklet to arrive in the mail, as it had every January for decades. So, she called the Internal Revenue Service.
It's not coming. Starting this year, the IRS has stopped sending those fat tax booklets to taxpayers' doors — a headache in the making for the millions who haven't filed their federal income taxes electronically.
"I am one of those people who do their taxes on paper, and I really wanted those instructions," said Furst, 89, of Squirrel Hill. "So, how am I going to file?"
She is far from alone. About 40 percent of Pennsylvania residents, or about 2.5 million people, file a paper return for their federal income taxes, according to IRS data. Nationwide, it's 34 percent, or some 49 million taxpayers.
"It's not that forms are not available," said Mark Hanson, the Internal Revenue Service spokesman in Philadelphia.
"You can visit a local IRS taxpayer assistance center, if you live by one," he said. "Or you can check with the local library or post office."
That's news to the United States Postal Service.
"The IRS hasn't sent us forms and books for about five years now," said Tad Kelly, spokesman for the Postal Service's Western Pennsylvania district, which covers 12 counties and part of West Virginia. " We used to receive tables full of books."
Even the IRS centers and local libraries that do carry tax forms don't have them yet. Last-minute tax legislation adopted by Congress Dec. 17 meant the IRS had to delay printing forms and publications.
"I've never done my taxes electronically," said Mary Pollice, of Aspinwall, who routinely prepares the returns of friends and family members, too. While computer-literate, she does not have a computer at home.
"I attempted to do them online once," said Pollice, 56. "But for the amount of time it would have taken me to answer all the questions, I could have done the return 10 times on paper."
The IRS' Hanson said the paper purge is not driven by an IRS quest to cut paper and handling costs, and he had no estimate of agency savings from e-filing. It stopped the automatic mailings because fewer and fewer people file paper returns, he said.
Hanson noted e-filers can get an IRS refund in as little as 10 business days. Whereas, paper filers usually wait four to six weeks to get a paper check.
Taxpayers can call the IRS at a number activated Tuesday and request that forms and booklets be mailed to them. But calls by a reporter last week met several minutes of wait time, or the IRS simply hung up after a recorded message, citing "extremely high call volumes."
"The IRS is just trying to push everyone into the Internet age, and some people will never get there," said state Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Glenshaw.
In fact, the IRS on Jan. 1 began requiring tax preparers of 100 or more federal income tax returns to submit them electronically, And if tax clients refuse to "e-file," they must attach to their returns a signed affidavit saying they insist their tax preparer file a paper return.
"Some people either don't know anything about doing it online, or don't have a computer," said Vulakovich, who, like several legislators, makes space in his office for AARP volunteers to assist constituents with returns. "Electronic filing is an inconvenience for a lot of traditional people like myself who like paper in front of them."
Many libraries do provide printed tax forms, as well as assistance from AARP tax volunteers. Fourteen of the 19 Carnegie Libraries in Pittsburgh expect to receive 1040 forms and publications from the IRS, but not until late January.
"There are fewer and fewer places providing tax forms," said Holly McCullough, manager of the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill. She is "very concerned" that the IRS changes will catch many people off guard and that droves will show up at her library.
"I'm hearing nervousness from some people" about the IRS cutting the mailings, she said. "But it's nothing like what's probably coming down the road from people who haven't paid attention to this yet."
"If more work is going to fall to the libraries to do this, shouldn't some money come to libraries to provide more of this service?" asked McCullough. Her library stocked and disbursed 2,730 federal income tax booklets in early 2010, before the IRS cut off mailings.
One bit of good news: Taxpayers have an extra three days to file this year — until April 18 — because April 15 is a holiday in Washington.Additional Information:
Help is near
Below are locations and phone numbers for the five IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers in the Pittsburgh region that will have tax forms and publications. In addition, you can call the IRS at 800-829-3676 to request they be mailed to you.
• Butler -- 220 S. Main St. (724-282-4531)
• Monroeville -- 4314 Old William Penn Highway (412-856-1913)
• Pittsburgh -- 1000 Liberty Ave. (412-395-5667)
• Warrendale -- 547 Keystone Dr. (724-772-5111)
• Washington -- 162 W. Chestnut St. (724-229-5985)
Among the the 19 Carnegie Library locations in Pittsburgh, these 14 will have tax forms and publications:
• Hill District
• Mt. Washington
• South Side
• Squirrel Hill
• West End
• Woods RunAdditional Information:
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue said Friday it's ready for residents to file personal income tax returns, by phone or Internet.
A so-called Tele-file return can be completed by calling 888- 4PAFILE (472-3453). Electronic filers can complete their 'pa.direct.file' returns by going online.
About 3.7 Pennsylvanians e-filed last year. Electronic filing saves the state about $3.49 per return, said the agency.
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