It's hard to believe, but technology has actually put a friendlier face
on the Internal Revenue Service. A handful of Web sites and software packages
can take some of the fight, if not the bite, out of April 15 for many taxpayers.
A Matter of Form
Once upon a time you had to go to a bank, library or post office to pick
up tax forms. This worked until they didn't have the form you needed, were
out of the form you needed, or weren't open for business at 10 p.m. when
you started thinking about your taxes. You could always call 1-800-TAX-FORM
and request to have forms mailed to you, but many of us don't work on this
kind of advance notice. We need tax forms, and we need them now! Wish granted.
With a home computer and Internet access, you can download all the
forms you need from the IRS site.
Granted, the servers get pretty bogged down around tax time. So you might
have to "wait in line" for a successful download. But unlike the
bank or the post office, you can make dinner while you wait in this line.
If the load is really heavy, you can also download the most popular forms
from 1040.com and the H&R
Block site, among others.
For state tax forms, TaxWeb and
offer nice lists of state department of revenue resources. Many, but not
all state tax forms are available for downloading. If your state forms aren't,
write your congressman and
tell them to get with the times!
Don't know what forms to download or what to do with them once downloaded?
Don't worry. The answers are out there. To satisfy the demand for tax information,
a number of sites have sprung up with names like 1040.com
and TaxWeb. 1040.com offers tax news,
tax tips, a bulletin board, a preparer database, federal forms, state forms
and more. TaxWeb answers general tax questions, keeps an eye on tax developments
and offers links to additional resources.TaxSites,
a gateway to the world of tax on the Web, is also worth checking out.
If you'd like to skip paper forms altogether, consider filing electronically.
One of the biggest advantages of electronic filing is speed. You don't have
to rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your return or your refund,
and the IRS will deposit refunds directly into your bank account. More than
68.5 million taxpayers used IRS e-file in 2005, and the agency says it
renders refunds twice as fast. It's also a more accurate way to file. Electronic
returns boast an error rate of less than 1 percent!
Ready to sign up? There are several ways to file electronically. Many
tax preparers will file a return electronically for you, but you can certainly
do it yourself. There are commercially available software packages that
ask a series of questions, then print the necessary forms on plain paper
or file them directly with the IRS. Personal tax software packages include
TurboTax and Kiplinger TaxCut. To find out what package
makes the most sense for you, read CNET's
Online Filing Alternatives. Online services will prepare your taxes or take information from a completed return
and file it electronically.
Surviving an Audit
It has to happen to somebody. If you find out you're being audited, don't
panic. TaxHelpOnline offers
tips on how to stand up to the IRS. Note that some auditees even come out
with a refund (but don't get your hopes up). Nolo's Legal Encyclopedia also
has a nice feature on Audits,
Tax Bills and More that will help put things in perspective and arm
you for the examination.
For more information, you can always take your questions straight to
the IRS. The Digital Daily, online home of the IRS, does much more than dish out tax forms
all day long. It's really one of the hippest sites on the `Net. This isn't
to say that you should skip the movies on Friday night to hang out with
Uncle Sam, but the site is loaded with information that's presented in a
clear, concise and fun manner. That's right, fun. So, in essence, the government
is making it easier for us to hand in our hard-earned dollars. Thanks, Uncle