By Jenny Neyman
Paperwork can take a time warp at the beginning of the year.
Anyone who’s accidentally written “2008” when they meant “2009,” raise your hand. Now smack your forehead with it and move on.
Other than some momentary confusion while brain cells that can count struggle to override hands that are accustomed to writing ’08, nothing bad is likely to happen from misdating things in January — as long as it’s an honest mistake.
Kathy Gensel, branch manager at Wells Fargo Bank in Soldotna, said misdating a check technically is a problem.
“As a general rule for all financial institutions, if a check has a date on it that’s more than six months old, it’s considered stale dated,” she said.
But in practice, as long as it’s just the year that’s off one digit, the check will likely still go through.
“It could be an issue, but a lot of times if somebody wrote you a check and put ‘January 8, 2008’ on there and you bring it in, if it’s for $50 we would probably cash it. Normally, it’s not an issue,” she said.
If the error is caught, correct the mistake and initial the change. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Most documents requiring dates won’t become invalid simply because of an incorrect year.
At the Department of Motor Vehicles on Kalifornsky Beach Road, Mary (regulations prohibit her from giving her last name) said computers smooth out mistakes like an incorrect date, because information on forms is entered into the computer system.
“In the system, it’ll show that it was ’09,” she said. “On what we processed, it will have an ’09.”
Same thing at the Kenai Court House and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. In accounts payable at the borough, Julie Lahndt said it’s more challenging to promulgate a date mistake than it is to make one in the first place.
“The computers, you know how smart they are,” she said. “And there’s reports and reports and reports. It’s going to be caught sooner or later. And if not, it’s not like it’s something that can’t be fixed.”
At the Soldotna Post Office, an incorrect year isn’t a big deal, but an incorrect date could be a problem.
“At this time of year, it’s not really a big issue, unless it’s like meter mail,” said Postmaster Hector Rivera. “If the day is correct and it’s just the year (that’s wrong), it’s an obvious mistake. If we receive something dated, say, December 31 or whatever, then we will have an issue because we cannot process the mail with a meter strip that is not from the same day. But if it says January ’08 or January ’07, depending on the day, it’s an obvious mistake.”
In most cases, having the post office accept and process the mail or form, for a passport or whatever the case may be, overrides any date mistakes that may be written down.
“As long as it has our cancellation, that will supersede whatever date it has,” Rivera said.
Banks, courts, the post office, government offices and the DMV aren’t legendary for leniency when it comes to paperwork errors, but their reputation pales next to the sticklers at the Internal Revenue Service.
But even the IRS has better things to do than get bent out of shape over a simple ’08/’09 mistake. Just don’t misdate something on purpose for tax break reasons.
“The date errors aren’t as big a deal as much as it is the timing of when you do stuff,” said George Stein, a certified public accountant with Lambe, Tuter and Wagner. “If you receive a check in December yet deposit it in January, that’s really December income, not January income. They’ll go back and look and see what actually happened as far as when it cleared the bank and that kind of stuff.”
Tax preparers may not question those things, but the IRS might.
“Keep in mind that we don’t audit a tax return, so from a tax standpoint, we just go ahead and take the information the client gives us and assume it’s in the proper period,” Stein said. “If we’re doing audit work, that’s a different story. We’ll verify dates on invoices and that kind of stuff.”
To err is human, to monkey with dates on purpose is the makings of a fine.