Beware of the Deadlines on Amended Tax Returns

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Deadlines are always important in the tax world, but sometimes the definitions of what a “deadline” is varies from one situation to the next.

Such is the case with amended tax returns.

In most cases, you have 3 years to file an amended tax return. For most people who file their 1040 without extension, that means April 15th, 3 years later. For example, a 2012 amended tax return (where the original 2012 return was due April 15th, 2013) must be filed by April 15, 2016.

Normally the term “filed” means “postmarked.” But this is not the case with amendments.

The term “filed” for amendments means when the IRS receives the amended return.

Here’s an example of a real-life situation of one of my clients.

The client needed to amend their 2011 tax return. I provided the return to them and gave them the address to mail it to. The client went to the post office on April 13th and sent the package by priority mail. The receipt showed an anticipated delivery date of April 15th.

The IRS sent the client a rejection letter because they received the mailing on April 20th — past the April 15th deadline.

How to Respond

At first blush, it appeared the IRS was correct. Amended returns must be in their hands by the 15th. At first I thought the taxpayer was out of luck. If the IRS says it didn’t get the mailing until the 20th, there really was not recourse.

But, I like when I can get into nuances in a battle with the IRS. So I started studying the 2012 calendar of deadlines, and thought back to past experiences. I noticed a few things that gave me 2 aces up my sleeve. Here’s what I wrote to the IRS:

  1. Because of weekends and holidays in 2012, the actual filing deadline for 2011 tax returns that year was April 17th, 2012 — making an amended return due by April 17th, 2015.
  2. The taxpayers live in Iowa. The Iowa service center, for reasons known only to the IRS, is in Fresno, California, (rather than the service center right down the road in Kansas City — but I digress). I pointed out to the IRS that I have sent dozens upon dozens of mailings to the Fresno service center, and it’s always a 2-3 day delivery window. The taxpayer had a receipt showing they mailed the amendment on April 13th. I said it simply wasn’t feasible to believe that the IRS didn’t receive the mailing til the 20th (7 days later) when past experience shows it takes 2-3 days. (I also “flowered up” that sentence by pointing out that I’m a federally licensed enrolled agent.) Even if it took 4 days for the envelope to arrive, that would be April 17th, 2015 — the actual deadline f0r 2011 amendments.

I told the taxpayers I didn’t think the argument would be successful, but it was worth a shot.

To my surprise, the IRS agreed with my arguments and paid the taxpayers the refund in full.

Bottom Line

While my clients had a happy ending with their amended return, the point is: get those amended returns in ASAP and make sure the mailing gets to the IRS before the deadline, because a postmark is not good enough.