On Your Mark, Get Set ... File!

Amy Lines of Chillicothe holds onto one of her deductions, her 4-year-old son Zachery, as she gets instructions from Nichole Thomas, a tax preparer at H&R Block
The race is on to file income tax returns before tonight's deadline.

The Internal Revenue Service expects millions of last-minute filings Tuesday, and both the Postal Service and tax preparers are bracing for the last-minute rush.

Last year, the Postal Service handled nearly 50 percent more "postmark" volume — mail that gets a postmark, like tax returns — on April 15 than on a normal day, about 48 million extra pieces. The year before, when Tax Day fell on a Sunday and the deadline was extended to Monday, volume was up by about 35 million pieces, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders told

Many taxpayers are expected to make the annual pilgrimage (or slog) to post offices staying open late Tuesday night. Most metropolitan areas and counties will have at least one post office open until midnight, and at many, procrastinators will be rewarded with comfort food (such as PayDay candy bars, popcorn, pizza, fried chicken, beverages), back rubs and more.

In many post offices, last-minute filers will be found with their personal papers and forms spread out over the lobby tables, frantically trying to compute their returns before the midnight deadline.

In Los Angeles, for example, last-minute filers will be greeted by teenage musicians wearing "Drumline" T-shirts playing drums and giving away videotapes of the movie. (By strange coincidence, the videotape is being released on Tuesday.)

Steve Mason and his band have been entertaining late-night customers at the Lawrence, Kansas, post office every Tax Day since 1987, and tonight will be no exception. He said about 1,000 people go through the post office between the band's first song at 9 p.m. and the witching hour.

In several communities, local radio stations will be broadcasting live from the post office. IRS agents will also be available some places to answer questions.

Two groups of demonstrators have said they will protest outside the main post office in New York.

Members of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation plan to carry signs and hand out leaflets to late tax filers at a Nashville post office, arguing that the state's tax structure means residents end up paying more to the federal government.

"There's no better time to be talking about tax reform," said Brian Miller, executive director of the Knoxville-based organization, which claims 6,000 members.

The IRS toll-free help line for individuals — 1-800-829-1040 — will be open from 7 a.m. until midnight local time Monday and Tuesday. (For taxpayers in Alaska and Hawaii, the times are Pacific time.)

And if all that isn't enough, the IRS is offering applications for filing extensions. The link to the form is front-and-center on the agency's Web site, Taxpayers running late can also request an extension by telephone at 1-888-796-1074.

The extensions are good until August 15, although most of any taxes due must be paid by Tuesday or interest and penalties will be charged.

As of last week, the IRS reported it had received 27 percent more self-prepared returns electronically than in the past year.

An IRS spokesman told the agency had seen no increase or decrease so far in the number of taxpayers waiting to file their returns.

By Lloyd A. de Vries