Today is tax day. It used to be enough make most postal employees break into a cold sweat. Lobby lines would stretch to the door. Racks of tax forms and instructions stood ready to be picked over by last-minute filers. Anxious customers peppered window clerks with a barrage of questions and, in some cases, we even brought volunteer tax preparers into our lobbies to provide assistance.
Outside was a dog-and-pony show of its own, as TV crews lined up to shoot footage of some of the estimated 23 percent of all American taxpayers who wait until the last day to file their return or request an extension. Extra collection runs were a necessity to keep boxes from being stuffed to overflowing.
How times have changed. Electronic filing has taken away a substantial chunk of our tax season business and tax day has become symbolic of the effect electronic diversion has had on our business. How big is the effect?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 1997 118 million federal tax returns were filed, with 85 percent, or 100 million, sent by mail. By 2002 the number of returns filed had climbed to 132 million but mailed returns had fallen to 87 million. This year the IRS anticipates receiving 141 million returns, but only 42 million of them will arrive in the mail.
Even at 44 cents per return (many are higher postage), this represents a loss of more than $25 million in revenue that is not coming back. So how do we recover? What is it like in your Post Office or on your route?