April 18, 2006 - Many Happy Returns
There are few groups of people who smile more frequently and more sincerely than people mailing their taxes at the post office at the last minute. They have just finished a stressful couple of hours sorting through paperwork, adding up numbers, filling in forms, and putting it all in nice clean envelopes. Many last minute tax filers have written big checks to the government, even though they may firmly believe that the government is spending their money inappropriately.
They could be smiling because they are feeling a proud sense of completion, a freeing sense of helplessness (because they’ve just given in),
or a self-effacing sense of embarrassment (because they are procrastinators). It could just be a deer-in-the-headlights smile that has manifested as they try to figure out how to get the money in the bank so the check clears. For whatever reason, everybody is smiling - grinning from ear to ear like the wait staff at TGI Fridays.
Yesterday, the dedicated staff of edhat.com was at the downtown Santa Barbara Post Office between 6:30PM and 7:00PM, to witness the glee and elation of this April ritual. We were also there to count the cars. When we did the same thing two years ago, we ended up in an article in the Christian Science Monitor. Who knows, maybe this time someone will offer to do our movie!
The word on the side of the street is that the number of last-minute filers at the Post Office has declined.
The Internet and fancy tax software makes filing electronically as easy as saving money on your car insurance. Edhat can’t say definitively whether or not there has been a decline in the last two years because two years ago we counted car-filers during a different time period. We can, however say that there has been a 50% decline in the number of Post Office workers assigned to the task of helping out. Last time there were two. This time there was one.
Last night, Josh was on duty. He was as smiley and as friendly as the drive-by tax-filers. He carried extra stamps, offered simple tax advice (no, you don’t have to mail your W2 in with your extension), and was sympathetic to all the folks who were having trouble with the stamp machine inside the building. For some people working at the post office, yesterday was a day to be a superhero, to make new friends, and maybe even, to meet cute girls.
Of course, not everyone at the post office yesterday was filing taxes. We met one woman who needed to mail her car registration on time.
Another person was mailing 100’s of invitations. And, many of the other envelopes didn’t actually look like full-on returns. A lot of them were just extensions, putting off the inevitable for another day. Some of the envelopes contained only the checks to accompany returns sent in online. If you wait until the last day, then you can get extra interest on the money you owe.
The total number of cars that came by to mail things during the half hour period we counted was 112. We know comparing different time periods is like comparing long-term capital gains to interest income, but we must note that the number this year is three more than the number from the 9:00 to 9:30 period in 2004.
Edhat subscriber FizzGirl wasn’t too taxed to come up with the exact correct answer in yesterday’s contest. She wins an Edhat t-shirt. Hmm. Don’t contest prizes need to declared on tax returns?
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