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Internet & Technology

Thursday, April 1, 2004

 
April 15 Near! Where To Go? To The Helpful IRS Web Site
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April 15 Near! Where To Go? To The Helpful IRS Web Site

FOR INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY

April 15 may be just around the corner, but there's good news: Finding tax information, forms and even filing electronically has never been easier or quicker.

Not surprisingly, the most complete collection of tax-related information and filing services is on the Internal Revenue Service site.

The main index of forms and information for filers is in the Forms & Publications section at irs.gov/formspubs/index.html.

Most of these form are in the portable document format, or PDF. Some can even be filled in by using your keyboard to enter information on-screen.

To print and read these forms, you'll need a copy of Adobe Reader, a free software program downloadable from the Adobe Systems (ADBE) site at adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.

Here's a quick guide to the key taxpayer resources listed on, and linked from, the main Forms & Publication page:

• What's Hot In Tax Forms, Pubs and Other Tax Products has updates and news on tax law changes for 2003, as well as those scheduled to take effect this year and later.

• Forms and Instructions lets you download a list of forms and directions numerically indexed in form number order.

• Publications and Notices offers explanatory material about specific filing requirements. These resources are also downloadable and are listed by name of publication.

• The Forms and Publications by Date section makes it possible to download several forms and publications with one click. The most recently modified documents are displayed first.

• Fill-In Forms contains links to forms you can download and fill out from your PC. You must print out these forms in order to sign them.

• Prior Years Forms and Publications has downloadable forms and instructions dating back to 1992.

• Accessible IRS Tax Products is designed for physically challenged taxpayers. This section specializes in forms and publications that, when downloaded, are read by a voice synthesizer.

• Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return has instructions and forms, including the familiar Form 4868. If you need an extension until Aug. 15 to file your return, you can download and then print out a form from the links in this section.

• Topical Index to Forms, Instructions and Publications alphabetically lists forms and publications by subject. This feature is especially useful if you do not know the exact title or number of the form or information you require.

• Frequently Asked Downloading and Printing Questions is the IRS' online help area for these activities. Several questions and accompanying answers include instructions about what to do if you have trouble correctly printing out forms or publications you have downloaded.

• Comment on Tax Forms and Publications has a page with a box where you can send suggestions directly to the IRS.

• Publications Online lets you read IRS how-to resources without having to download them as PDF files.

• Online Instructions for Forms has brief instructions for key forms. As with the Publications Online area, you will not have to download these forms as PDF files.

• Order the Tax Products CD-ROM makes it possible to order a CD-ROM with some of the most popular tax forms and accompanying instructions. The CD-ROM is provided by the Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service.

• Need a Tax Package and Forms and Publications by U.S. Mail is a handy section if you can't print out forms from the IRS site.

• Link to State Tax Forms has a link that takes you off the IRS site and onto the Web site of the Federation of Tax Administrators. The page, at taxadmin.org/fta/link/forms.html, has a clickable map of the U.S. When you click on a state, you are routed to that state's main tax information page.

After you have obtained your tax forms and figured out your taxes, you may be able to file your return directly from your PC.

To e-file, you fill out your required tax form directly on your PC. Next, you use a credit card to pay any fees, along with anything you owe on your taxes. Filing is fast, and if the IRS owes you money, you will get your refund quicker.

You may be able to use an e-filing service for free. To check out this option, don't go through the IRS site.

Instead, you'll go to the Web site of any of the 15 private-sector firms that have partnered with the IRS to offer these services. This partnership is called the Free File Alliance.

Each company has its own free-filing criteria. Some are restricted to residents of certain states, while others limit free filing to taxpayers of certain ages or below certain yearly adjusted gross incomes. Even if you don't qualify for any free service, most of these firms offer online filing for a low fee.

Companies in the Free File Alliance include established entities such as H&R Block (HRB) and Intuit. (INTU)

H&R Block offers complementary on-screen and online filing services to taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $38,000.

Intuit's TurboTax division offers a free on-screen version of the product to those who qualify. Eligibility is generally restricted to filers age 22 or younger, age 62 or older, or active military.

Others don't have age or income restrictions. FreeTaxUSA.com offers free filing to residents of 14 states, including California, New York and Pennsylvania.

Most Free File Alliance companies offer for-pay e-filing services to those customers who do not qualify for free filing. Intuit's TurboTax provides four e-file packages, ranging from $19.95 to $69.95.

H&R Block supplies three programs, priced from $34.95 to $99.95. With the most expensive package, the company sends your completed return to tax professionals for their approval before it's transmitted to the IRS.

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