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Tax Time

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 TaxSites 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.




Paperless Filing

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 Sam.




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