Online tax filing offers easy, safe alternative
Whether you're paying the money you owe or claiming the money you'll be getting back, Uncle Sam says there's no sense filling out any paperwork come tax time.
Bottom line: Go electronic.
"It's faster, it's much more accurate and it's safe," said Michael Devine, a regional spokesman for the IRS.
The Internal Revenue Service is encouraging its anticipated 138 million individual taxpayers to file their returns by computer this year. Nearly 80 million did so a year ago, and officials expect more people to plug in this time around.
Some 70 percent of taxpayers will qualify to file electronically for free, by having adjusted gross incomes of $54,000 or less. For details about IRS Free File, visit www.irs.gov.
But regardless of income level or format, Devine said, filing by computer simply makes the most sense for a variety of reasons:
¢ Accuracy. Most errors that generate a letter from the IRS - "That's the kind of letter you don't want to get," he said - occur because a taxpayer writes the incorrect Social Security number on one or more pages of a paper return. Computers minimize that problem by replicating the number on each electronic page once entered the first time. Math errors also disappear because the program crunches the numbers. "Electronic returns have a less than 1 percent error rate," he said, while as many as 20 percent of paper returns have problems, especially late in the filing season.
¢ Speed. Mail in a paper return and it could be two months before you see a refund check. File electronically, with direct deposit, and you could have your money within 10 days.
¢ Security. Electronic filing has been going for 20 years, Devine said. "We've had more than a half a billion returns - that's with a 'b' - and we've never once had a security problem," he said.