PORTLAND — In the last dash to file income tax returns by midnight Tuesday, AARP Foundation volunteers helped about 70 people make the deadline at the post office on Forest Avenue.

Trained retirees assisted men and women of all ages and backgrounds in filling out tax forms and attaching required documentation before they dropped their envelopes in the mail. The free program is funded by the AARP Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service.

“Some people filed not only this year’s return, but last year’s as well,” said Joan Jagolinzer, district coordinator of the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide Program. “I think they think it’s fine to file every few years, even though it’s not.”

Tax-filing habits have changed dramatically in recent years. Maine post offices no longer stay open late to accommodate procrastinators, said Tom Rizzo, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.

In recent years, the tax-filing deadline has become a “virtual non-event at post offices,” Rizzo said, because so many people file their returns via the Internet.

As of April 6, Internal Revenue Service figures indicated that 87 percent of filers had sent their returns electronically, according to IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley.

Rizzo noted that in years past, postal employees stayed late so people could get their tax returns postmarked before the midnight deadline. Some post offices even hired bands to play and make the evening more pleasant.

“But it’s been several years since we’ve had those types of big scenes out front,” Rizzo said.

At the Forest Avenue post office on Tuesday, the window closed at the regular time — 7 p.m. — and an automated postal center in the lobby provided an April 17 postmark until 9 p.m.

Mainers are expected to file 634,600 returns this year.

If the state follows national averages, about 20 to 25 percent of those returns will have been filed in the two weeks before April 17, Riley said. About 44,000 Mainers are expected to seek extensions.

Several AARP tax-aide volunteers, including Jagolinzer, were helping last-minute tax filers well after 6 p.m. Tuesday. They sat at a long table, poring over documents and working on laptops.

In 2011, the AARP tax-aide program helped 2.6 million people nationwide, with an army of 35,000 volunteers at 6,500 sites across the country, said Jagolinzer, a retired IRS audit manager who lives in Scarborough.

In the Portland area, the program provided free tax preparation assistance at 10 locations from Feb. 1 through Tuesday. Many of the volunteers have financial or accounting experience, but some just enjoy helping others.

“We do it because we love it,” Jagolinzer said. “We know what we’re doing. We have to take an IRS test every year to prove it.”

The last person to be helped by the AARP volunteers on Tuesday was Nicolas Bresinsky, an English teacher at Portland High School.

Bresinsky admitted that he sometimes procrastinates, especially when the weather is fine and he would rather be kayaking.

“I hate dealing with impersonal forms,” Bresinsky said. “It feels good to just put it in someone else’s hands.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]