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'The check is in the mail' could soon be a legal excuse

February 14, 2012 | 11:15 am

MailWith Postal Service cuts threatening to slow mail delivery, a group of lawmakers is pushing legislation to require banks, credit card companies and other businesses to credit a customer’s account on the date a payment is postmarked rather than the date it is received.

The Postmark Payment Act is similar to a 1995 bill that had bipartisan support but never made it through Congress in the face of opposition from banks and other industries that warned it could lead to higher costs. Similar opposition is expected with the new effort.

"We do not think a company’s success or profitability should be tied to the U.S. Postal Service," a spokeswoman for the American Financial Services Assn. said Tuesday.

But Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the bill’s chief sponsor, sees a greater need for the bill now as the Postal Service considers cuts to mail service.

"Each month, thousands of Americans are charged late fees and penalties for bills they believed in good faith they had paid on time, through no fault of their own,” he said in a statement.

Proponents of the bill note that the Internal Revenue Service uses the postmark as proof that a taxpayer mailed his or her tax return on or before the deadline.

Postal officials have delayed until mid-May plans to change delivery standards for first-class mail and close facilities, to give lawmakers time to explore a financial reform plan.

The bill would exempt any payment where another method, such as electronic payment, is required by regulation, contract or law. It has been referred the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for consideration.

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--Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Bundles of mail wait to be sorted in the City of Industry. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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