Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase:TM A Research Site for Legal Professionals.
(Archived April 1, 1998)
If anyone predicted even a few weeks ago that I would use the words fun, easy and taxes in the same sentence with sincerity and enthusiasm, I would have laughed until my sides split. "Oh, thats a good one! Yeah, right! Sure! Hah! No way! Never!" If this person further prophesied that I would attempt publicly to convince others that filing tax returns might be an event to await eagerly, I would have considered him loony. Yet that is precisely what I am about to do!
This year, in addition to mailing paper returns, individuals may file by telephone, electronically using tax preparation software, or online via an IRS contract transmitter.1 Some businesses also may file via telephone, electronic data interchange, magnetic media, or electronically.2 Moreover, individuals in 45 states may file their state returns electronically or online3 while some businesses may file state returns either electronically or via magnetic media.4
Those who want to prepare their federal taxes the old-fashioned way will find most, if not all, the forms, instructions and publications they need at the IRS web site. Viewing them online requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader, additional software available at no charge, that a browser must invoke in order to display portable document format (.pdf). But the IRS also offers three other formats for those who simply want to download and print the materials.
Taxpayers too will find links to a collection of state tax forms compiled by the Federation of Tax Administrators. The list includes forms from all states except Nevada. A check of the official home page for the State of Nevada indicates the Department of Taxation, Revenue Division web site has not yet been established.5
Individuals who want to file taxes electronically may do so via tax professionals or from a personal computer. Personal computer users may prepare their returns with commercial tax preparation software or online, and then file them electronically via contract transmitters.6
I quickly reviewed a few of the commercial software and online products in order to select one for use in filing my taxes. What I discovered may help other individual filers. Businesses that want to file electronically should review IRS e-file Options for Businesses.
I first looked at TurboTax by Intuit Inc. and AutoTax by Tax Link Incorporated. I found AutoTax confusing. Its web site makes perplexing statements, like "Electronic Filers can still use AutoTax to file until October 15." Which October 15?
It also remarks, "Beginning this year, individual taxpayers can transmit their own tax returns to the IRS." The IRS 1994 FY Annual Report states: "Electronic filing was available for individual returns nationwide for the first time in 1990."7 Moreover, the download page, offers a "1996 version" and the worksheet that appears, once one installs the software, displays a 1996 date. Is AutoTax an abandoned web site or just offering stale information?
Intuit, the vendor of TurboTax, offers a trial version of its tax preparation software that allows users to do everything except print tax forms or file them electronically. To perform these tasks, users must upgrade to the complete software version. Downloading the trial version proved no small task. It took three tries each lasting approximately 60 minutes at 28.8 baud.
Those wanting to use tax preparation software, however, may find TurboTax worth the effort. It utilizes an "assistant" to help taxpayers fill out various federal forms. Of course, the feature will annoy tax professionals and others who do not require its assistance. But it appears one may bypass the feature with the fully functional version.8
Taxpayers must purchase separate software to file state forms with TurboTax.
Intuit also offers plenty to interest taxpayers on its web site. It provides business and personal tax guides, information about tax law changes, a tax calendar, tax preparation software, tax tips and bulletins, and more. During February, it initiated an online filing service for individuals with "simple to moderately complex" returns. The online service also provides for filing California State forms.
I'm a Pennsylvania resident. Might I find an online service that allows me to file both my federal and state forms electronically?
Referring again to IRS e-file Options for Individuals, I decided to investigate SecureTax by Universal Tax Systems, Inc. From the results of a browser search,9 I selected also to review NetTax 9X, a service of Chortek & Gottschalk, LLP.
NetTax 9X provides a cost-free secure method for calculating federal income taxes. Taxpayers then take the calculations and manually transfer them to the appropriate IRS forms. Although easy to use and free, NetTax 9X is not an electronic filing service.
SecureTax, on the other hand, allows taxpayers not only to calculate federal and state tax returns,10 but also to file them electronically without downloading additional software. Upon entering the site, select "prepare or edit a return" from the top horizontal menu. Then respond to questions for online assistance with tax preparation, or skip the interview process, and go directly to the online forms.
A complete tax preparation service, SecureTax offers more than 1800 computable forms and 2200 blank forms. Moreover, I may file Pennsylvania taxes using the service.
Perhaps for its completeness more than for any other reason, I chose SecureTax to prepare and file my income taxes. Its easy. Simply answer questions, or click on an information symbol to receive an explanation. Its fun, as far as preparing ones taxes presents a joy.
And, its official. Im now on record as using easy, fun and taxes together to describe a single concept!
"IRS e-file Options for Businesses," 25 January 1998. Online. Internet. 14 February 1998. Available at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/elec_svs/ets2.html. <back to text>
Supra, note 2. <back to text>
Site checked 1 February 1998. <back to text>
A list of online filing (OLF) vendors and products appears in the document, IRS e-file Using a Personal Computer, available at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/elec_svs/ol-txpyr.html. <back to text>
IRS 1994 FY Annual Report, "Table 8 Number of Returns Filed Electronically, Individual Returns." Online. Internet. 14 February 1998. Available as downloadable file, 94CR08NR.EXE, available at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/tax_stats/soi/ind_othe.html. <back to text>
In the trial version, a button appears in the lower right-hand corner that prompts users to "Go To Forms." When I clicked on it, I received a pop-up box that informed me I must upgrade to the full version. From this, I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that expert filers may bypass the assistant. <back to text>
Using Netscape 4.0's search feature, I entered file taxes electronically in the "go to" or url line. This returned several documents including Tax Help Is in Site, a CMP Media Inc. article. The article references NetTax 9X. I want to thank Jerry Lawson, lawyer and webmaster of Internet Tools for Attorneys, for apprising me of this feature in the latest versions of both Netscape and Internet Explorer. <back to text>