Last-minute tax filers are tying up brokerage phone lines, flooding Web sites and scavenging for forms at libraries and post offices as Thursday's income tax filing deadline approaches.
Customers are reporting telephone logjams at Charles Schwab, Waterhouse Securities and E-Trade, among other brokerages, as tax season collides with a hot stock market to produce long waits. Customers trying to call Schwab in recent days, for example, have been routinely met with a warning that "extremely high call volume" will delay a response.
Phil Luebben, an attorney with Southern California Edison, said he has been having trouble getting through to E-Trade for the last several days. E-mails to the brokerage went unanswered, he often had trouble accessing the Web site, and the company's toll-free line has been jammed, he said.
"You try calling their 800 line and it's busy for hours on end," Luebben said. "When you get through, you're on hold for 15 to 30 minutes."
The brokerages say typically high volumes that accompany a rising stock market have been augmented by people seeking tax information about their accounts or trying to fund an individual retirement account before the April 15 deadline for the 1998 tax year.
Some of the brokerages have been encouraging the last-minute business. Schwab, for example, has been advertising free Federal Express overnight service to customers opening an IRA.
Intuit, which makes the market-leading tax-preparation software, had to shut down the electronic filing system of its TurboTax and WebTurboTax service for 14 hours, Bloomberg News reported. The shutdown, indirectly related to the crush of returns, began at 10 p.m. Monday, Intuit spokesman Robert Blodgett said.
Taxpayers seeking forms and instructions are crowding the IRS' Web site, occasionally overloading the agency's server and leading to downloading delays.
People who need tax forms but don't have access to the Internet are quickly running out of options. Many libraries, post offices and banks report their supplies are thinning, although IRS and state Franchise Tax Board offices throughout Southern California still offer complete supplies.
Many of these offices, whose addresses are listed in local phone books (and at http://www.latimes.com/taxes), offer extended hours, with most FTB offices open until 7 p.m. today and Thursday and eight major IRS offices--those in El Centro, Long Beach, San Bernardino, San Marcos, Laguna Niguel, Palm Springs, San Diego and Santa Ana--open until 6 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Thursday.
Those who simply can't meet the Thursday midnight deadline can file for an extension.
As in past years, the U.S. Postal Service is gearing up for late filers. Thirty-four major Southern California post offices will remain open late Thursday night. To find the nearest post office offering extended hours, call the Postal Service at (800) ASK-USPS or look at The Times' Web address above.
Liz Pulliam can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more tax information and to download the most popular IRS forms, visit http://www.latimes.com/taxes.