For millions of Americans, Friday is the worst rite of spring.
Almost one-third of the 117 million people who must file federal tax returns will wait until just before the April 15 midnight deadline, mainly because they owe money, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Filers who waited until the last week a year ago totaled 34.2 million. This year, the IRS expects that number will be easily surpassed.
"We are booked solid, appointments until midnight," Laura Springer, who works at an H&R; Block office in Silver Spring, Md., said Wednesday. "It's like this every year at this time."
There will be 400,000 to 600,000 Orange County taxpayers filing returns this week, according to the IRS.
Taxpayers who miss the deadline can count on paying late fees and a penalty of 5% for each month they stall.
Taxpayers can get a delay until Aug. 15 to file their return--but the request form and the estimated tax owed also must be filed by midnight Friday.
Last year, nearly 6 million people opted for the four-month delay, the IRS said.
For the chronic procrastinator, the IRS will allow a second extension to Oct. 15.
Those heading to the Post Office Friday night in New York will have company--the Postal Service is expecting 20,000 mad dashers at its main branch on 8th Avenue.
In Springfield, Mass., there will be champagne, music and banners to greet the late-night filers, who last year included a woman whose dog who has been trained to drop her return in the mail box.
In Phoenix, Baskin Robbins will pass out free ice cream. The flavor? Income Tax Crunch.
The historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis is hosting a "Tax Stress Release" party, with food, drink and stamps to the first 1,000 people who show up.
In Bethesda, Md., an Elvis impersonator will be giving out free Elvis Presley stamps.
Speaking of stamps, the Postal Service warns that filers must have the right postage (four pages equals one ounce, which can be sent with a 29-cent stamp) and cannot use a postage meter. That's because the IRS will neither pay extra postage nor recognize the postage meter date stamp as valid.
The postage meter date can, after all, be fudged.
Someday, however, the April 15 late-night rush will be just a memory, thanks to the potential for filing by computer. As of April 1, some 12.4 million returns had been filed by computer, up 8.3% from a year ago, a trend tax collectors hope will continue.
The IRS says it eliminates paperwork, saves money and time, speeds up refunds and makes for more accurate returns.