Yup, I know the feeling- Short on cash ’til May 1st, and taxes are due in mid April. But no need to run to the local loan shark and sign away your wheels, cause the Postal Service has a new (dis)service just for you!

As recently as a half century ago passenger trains stopped at even the tiniest of towns, at the behest of the now replaced Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Most every passenger train had a Railway Post Office (RPO) car, where mail was literally sorted on the fly. And every RPO had a neat little mail slot on the side where you could mail a letter, and it would be collected and sorted by an RPO clerk before the train reached the next town, just in case your letter was going to the next town. So even after our small town Post Office closed late in the afternoon, you could meet the passenger train at the station that evening, get your tax return with enclosed check duly postmarked by the filing deadline, and it’d be delivered in a big city IRS office the next day or day after.

To accomplish that feat required 24/7 mail processing centers spread every hundred miles or less apart all over the land, a functional passenger rail network, and air mail transport so cheap that first class as well as Air Mail routinely made the long hops in hours by air. Thus your tax return and check mailed on friday from Podunk would arrive at an IRS office by monday morning and the only delay might be while the Federal Reserve System gets around to clearing your check.

Today the RPO cars have been banished to the museums, small town Post Offices close around lunch time, and often the truck that brings the destinating mail in the morning turns right around and heads back to the sorting center which is now hundreds of miles away, leaving originating mail sent the rest of the day to sit at least another day. I used this new Postal Service “feature” to good effect a few years back when I was short on cash ’til May 1st… Mail the return and check late in the day from a rural Post Office, and the IRS didn’t cash my check ’til two weeks later in May when I actually had enough cash in my account to pay it.

Back when I worked for the Postal Service we used to joke about “NeverMail”, a premium service for bill payments and such that was guaranteed to be lost and downright buried in the Postal Service forever.  “NeverMail” isn’t available yet, but while not officially advertised, “ForeverMail” is here, with delivery times sometimes measured in weeks. All it took to accomplish this new standard no extra cost service was dim bulb Postal execs who think the successful business model is to cut services to the point where costs are less than revenue. The problem with this model is that service declines with their cost cuts, followed by further revenue declines that leaves the Postal Service forever chasing their tail with round after round of service cuts. Thus rural states like South Dakota that used to have Postal Service sorting centers sprinkled about the state in Rapid City, Aberdeen, Huron, and even little Mobridge and Pierre  send their mail hundreds of miles to Sioux Falls or Denver to be sorted, the aforementioned sorting facilities being closed. Now I managed to drop my mail at one of those small town Post Offices in north central South Dakota back when the Huron sorting center at the airport was still open… With Huron closed, next month mail delivery and check clearance from central South Dakota is all but assured!

So if your “cash position” doesn’t quite support paying your taxes this month, head to the smallest town with a Post Office, an indy bank, and no broadband internet service in central South Dakota, where it’s currently snowing. Open a checking account at the bank and get some starter checks, or just kluge some on your own if they won’t provide… Heck, a check handwritten on birch bark is legal. Then go to the Post Office after the truck has left but before they close and mail your truck via Parcel Post to the IRS. That gives you a “postmark” for today, and there’s no requirement that a return be sent by first class mail.

Let the Postal Service and the Federal Reserve’s antiquated courier based check clearing system “take care” of the rest… Thanks to the 15th being a holiday in some fortunate places, you get ’til the 18th to snail mail your return. Assuming the mail truck gets through the snow on the 19th, your return might get to Sioux Falls and get diverted to the Saint Paul Bulk Mail Center (BMC) on the 20th or later. After a day there your return will spend a couple more days getting trucked back across the country to a destinating BMC, then spend a couple days getting through there, to a destinating Post Office, and finally get delivered to the IRS by maybe the end of the month. Then the IRS will spend days and maybe weeks getting to your return and check, which then has to be couriered to your bank in Podunk and back to actually debit your account… It may be June by then!

Heck, with “progress” like this, if you’re my age, pretty soon death will have way more certainty than taxes…