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Postal Service closure could delay delivery of tax forms

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
United States Postal Service letter carrier Keith Caniff sorts mail on his route in East Grand Rapids, Monday.

Washington — The suspension of mail service in parts of Michigan and the Midwest due to record-setting cold this week could affect timely delivery of W-2 tax forms.

The postmark deadline for employers to furnish W-2's to employees is Jan. 31 in order to avoid late penalties.

However, the U.S. Postal Service has not been picking up or delivering mail for the last two days in parts of Michigan and several other states affected by extreme weather.

Mail service was set to resume in the Detroit area on Friday. 

"Anyone who’s an employer filling out those forms thinking they had until the 31st, even if they mailed it yesterday, they're not going to get a postmark that's good," U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Thursday.

"That could otherwise cause a penalty. It's an issue we're hearing from people at home about."

Upton said his office reached out to the Internal Revenue Service urging the agency to waive penalties for employers affected by the suspension of mail service this week. 

The IRS did not respond Thursday to questions.

Last year, federal penalties for businesses filing late W-2 forms started at $50 per return or a maximum $536,000 a year.

Dan Papineau, director of tax policy and regulatory affairs at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said he believes in this case the new IRS's postmark deadline for W-2s would be Friday or whenever mail service resumes. 

Typically, when Jan. 31 falls on a holiday or weekend, the deadline moves to the next business day, he said. 

"If the Post Office is closed, that's just like if it were closed on a holiday or Sunday or something, so I would assume it's the next day," Papineau said. "Hopefully, a lot of them got them in a little early."

He noted a recent change to Michigan law moved the deadline for business taxpayers to submit their wage statements — forms W-2 and 1099 — to the state Treasury Department to Jan. 31, rather than Feb. 28. 

Companies with more than 250 employees must upload the forms electronically, he said.

Michigan Treasury Department spokesman Ron Leix said the department "anticipates waiving penalties and interest for those individual and business taxpayers affected by the extreme winter weather-related emergency."

Leix said employers will have until Feb. 7, which is an extra week.

Update: The IRS issued a statement Friday saying that, due to the stoppage of postal services in some areas affected by the cold and snow, "the IRS will not assess a late filing penalty for Forms W-2 that are postmarked by February 4."