Note: My Web pages are best viewed with style sheets enabled.
Mailing your tax return by certified or registered mail wastes your money. It also wastes your time and the time of those in line behind you while the window clerk at the Post Office shuffles the necessary paperwork.
I originally wrote this just after returning from the Post Office. I had to buy stamps in order to mail my federal and state income tax returns. The Post Office was a small, little-known contract station in a stationery store.
The line for the single clerk was long and moved slowly. It seems that most of the people in line wanted to mail their tax returns using certified mail. What a waste! I have been filing tax returns for more than 50 years. Not once have I had a problem with an envelope not being delivered to the IRS or the California Franchise Tax Board. The only important thing is that the postmark on the envelope not be later than 15 April (16 or 17 April if the 15th falls on a weekend).
I have also heard some people suggest that tax returns be filed via registered mail, an even worse waste. Obviously, many do not know the real purpose of certified or registered mail.
I use certified mail only when the addressee is such a scoundrel that he might deny ever receiving it or when I might need to prove to some third person not only that I mailed the envelope but that the addressee actually received it.
Cost: $2.95 in addition to regular postage.
In general, registered mail is appropriate when the contents of the envelope have some real monetary value (e.g.: cash, jewelry, stock certificates). It is also appropriate when the contents must be protected because they are sensitive (e.g., personnel or medical records, a list of credit cards with their account numbers).
Often registered mail is also insured. Some people cite an inflated value when they request insurance; for example, someone mailing an envelope containing a will might request insurance for $750,000 because that is the value of the estate. If the will were lost in the mail in this example, however, the U.S. Postal Service would pay only the cost of preparing the will (if it is the original) or the cost of copying it (if it is a copy). In any case, there is a maximum limit of $25,000 for insured registered mail.
Cost: $10.95 without insurance, in addition to regular postage
The delivery of both certified and registered mail may be delayed if the sender requires only the addressee to sign the receipt.
Some of those mailing their tax returns requested a return receipt. The added cost is $1.15 for an electronic receipt or $2.35 for a physical (hard-copy) receipt. For my tax returns, my cancelled check (under-withheld) or a refund check (over-withheld) are sufficient proof that the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board received my tax returns. Only if I really suspect there will be a dispute whether the envelope was received do I request a return receipt. I know that, if I do not request a return receipt and the addressee later claims that the envelope was not received, I can still get a post hoc return receipt for $4.75. If I actually need a receipt only one time out of three mailings, I save money by not requesting the receipt in advance. Better than that, I have never really needed the receipt, saving the full fee each time I didn't request one.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***NOTE CAREFULLY: A certificate of mailing is only sufficient to prove when a federal tax return was mailed and only if the postmark on the envelope is missing or unreadable. A certificate of mailing is not accepted by the IRS to prove that a return was actually mailed.
*** End Right Sidebar ***
If you only need proof that you mailed an envelope, not that it was actually received, you should request a certificate of mailing, which costs $1.15 in addition to regular postage. While there is no receipt from the addressee, you do get a receipt from the post office when you mail the item.
One final suggestion: Much of the delay at the Post Office was caused by the need to fill out the paper-work for certified mail. You can complete the forms yourself before you get into line. That would really make the line move faster.
For further information about certified and registered mail and about postage rates, visit the Web page for the U. S. Postal Service.
15 April 2000
Updated 20 April 2012
David Ross home