Last-minute IRS income tax filers lined up as the band played on

Band plays for last-minute tax filersTo the tune of "Shaft" played by the Columbia University marching band, dozens of income-tax filers raced up the steps of New York City's main post office Thursday near midnight. The deadline that so many Americans dread had arrived.

Inside, hundreds fidgeted in line and scribbled on forms and checks wherever they could find a flat surface. It was a moment played out in post offices across the country. About 20% of taxpayers submit their returns within the last two weeks, the IRS estimates. Anthony Diaz was proud to occupy the extremely late end of that bunch.

"I love the excitement," Diaz told WalletPop. Diaz, a 53-year-old actor, turns his annual 11th-hour pilgrimage to pay his respects to Uncle Sam into a social occasion. He brought his daughter and son-in-law, promising to reward them with a chicken dinner in Manhattan.

Paul Pimsler, a 55-year-old musician, explained that his accountant had readied his return just hours earlier. "I've never gone to the wire like this," he said.

At least he made it. As the clock struck midnight, cops stationed themselves at the end of each line, denying latecomers the prized April 15 postmark to avoid paying penalties. They would join the estimated 10 million or so who were expected to file for an extension.

With 66% of Americans now e-filing, according to Mint.com, and lots of do-it-yourself software available, the hustle and bustle in a brick-and-mortar post office seemed dated. Blanca Riveros, a 51-year-old hair stylist, wondered aloud why her preparer had not submitted her return through the Internet. "As a matter of fact, I need to change my accountant," she said.

Some arrived dangerously close to the witching hour because of other priorities. Bobby Ciafardini, a broadcaster for BronxNet, a local cable channel, had just covered the Yankees' game in the Bronx. "I'm always last-minute with the taxes, but never late with the postage," he said.

None of those interviewed said they were getting a refund. One man who asked not to be identified expressed the sentiments of many by snickering, "So what's the hurry?"

Outside, the conductor of the Columbia band exhorted his charges to keep playing, but many had already put away their instruments. At 12:15 a.m., people who were lined up at a mobile postal unit on the sidewalk said they were informed that they would still receive an April 15 postmark.

For those anxious citizens, it might have been the last favor the government would grant this tax season.

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