April 15, 2005
NEW YORK - At bustling post offices and their own keyboards, Americans by the millions played their annual game of Beat the Clock on Friday, racing to file tax returns by midnight.
Postal workers supplied coffee and doughnuts - Tax Day fixtures - and were joined in some places by local radio DJs who cheered on the procrastinators.
At the landmark Eighth Avenue post office in Manhattan, taxpayers juggled file folders and tattered envelopes with receipts and notes. One man ate pizza while he hunched over forms.
The lobby was crowded with about 100 people by midday, and seven mobile units were parked outside to help last-minute filers.
"I just couldn't get my act together," confessed Robert Spencer, 27, a consultant. "I gave it to an accountant a few weeks back and then he was crunched. I was hounding him to get it back and I finally did. So here I stand as the clock ticks."
The scrambling scene played out from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Springfield, Mass., where the main post office was staying open until midnight on tax day for the 23rd year in a row.
"We started off with a coffee pot and a couple dozen doughnuts, but this has emerged into a really big day for us," said Springfield operations manager Ted Goonan, who expected the post office to clear about 285,000 tax returns Friday.
Local radio DJs were joined by volunteers from a nearby technical college who helped last-minute filers prepare their returns. Area restaurants donated catered dishes.
"I've been waiting for over two hours to get help with my taxes," said Todd Brown, 35, who showed up shortly after the Springfield post office opened at 7:30 a.m. to get help from volunteer accountants. "This is free, and I don't mind waiting in line for that."
In the nation's capital, the NBA's Washington Wizards urged people attending Friday night's game with the Cleveland Cavaliers to bring their unmailed tax returns with them. Postal Service employees were to be on hand at the arena to collect and put an April 15 stamp on returns.
Still, much of the eleventh-hour rush was coming online: The Internal Revenue Service said it expected more than half of all U.S. returns this year to be filed electronically, a first.
"When you compare it to doing business on the Web or through e-mail, the acceptance level for tax filings is much higher," IRS spokesman Eric Smith said. "It's been very successful."
The agency had no estimate of how many returns would be filed Friday, but Smith said of the 120 million returns expected to be filed on time, only 88 million had come in by April 8.
In Sioux Falls, Shirley Brink said she received a completed tax return from her accountant about six weeks ago, but waited until Friday to bring it to the post office. "Keep your money in the bank a little longer," she said.