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FIRST-PERSON: E-filing for many happy returns

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Filing your taxes may not make your top 10 list of fun ways to pass time, but tax season is an unavoidable annual ritual — like spring cleaning and registering your car.

Then, there is also that reminder from Jesus. “Jesus told them, ‘Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him” (Mark 12:17).

Now, back then they may have been amazed, but most of us today are beyond the amazement part when it comes to giving to our Caesars in Washington D.C.

Nothing spells “relief” like a tax refund. So, if you have a refund coming and you’d like to get it fast, this may be the year you will want to consider filing your taxes electronically (E-filing). According to the IRS, more than 68 million Americans chose E-filing in 2005, 11 percent more than the year before. The IRS expects a record number of E-filers this year.

E-filing software makes the tax-paying process simple and relatively pain-free by guiding you through your tax forms line by line, directing you where to enter the appropriate data. It’s easier than attaching forms to paper tax returns, and it’s much more accurate.

The IRS says E-filing gets your refund to you in half the time of paper filing — and you can receive it in as little as 10 days if you arrange to have your refund direct-deposited into your bank account. Another incentive for some may be that in 37 states you can E-file your Federal and state tax returns simultaneously.

Are you ready to enter the brave new world of paperless tax filing? Don’t run out to buy tax software just yet. You will have to decide whether you’re going to file your own taxes. If you prefer to prepare your own forms and hand them over to a local tax professional to verify and file for you, be sure your software is compatible with that of your accountant or tax preparer.

If you’re computer literate, E-filing does it all — almost. First, determine the manner of tax preparation best suited to your needs. Decide whether you want to prepare and file your return online. If so you can purchase commercially available software and download it or have it mailed to you. You may prefer to use a local professional who is an authorized IRS E-file provider. Or, you can simply download software from an Internet site and prepare your return offline.

If you do your own taxes, there is plenty of good software to choose from. Advantages to this type of E-filing are that you’ll avoid penalties and the program automatically checks for errors and omissions. There is another option: With some online websites you can log in anytime, point and click online, set your own pace, and finish when you want. With these websites, there is nothing to download.

E-filing provides quick electronic confirmation with an acknowledgment that the IRS has received your returns.

Only tax professionals who are authorized IRS E-file providers are allowed to E-file taxes for you. These are providers who have completed the IRS program that certifies them to transmit tax return information to the IRS.

The cost of preparing and E-filing tax forms varies, depending on the complexity of your return. However, fees paid for preparation of your tax return, as well as the cost to E-file, are tax deductible. You can visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov for more information, including a list of software programs to help you E-file your taxes.

E-filing is as safe as doing transactions at an ATM, thanks to your “electronic signature” — a self-selected personal identification number (PIN). It’s quite simple; your tax software will guide you through the process of creating a PIN, or a tax professional can walk you through it.

If you’re still hesitant about E-filing your taxes — no problem, because the IRS has something they call Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). This program offers free tax help for the disabled, or low- to moderate-income (under $35,000) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program provides free tax help to people age 60 and older.

Before you begin, you’ll need forms such as the W-2 and 1099-R. However, whether or not you E-file, the Internet can be a big help in tax preparation. By logging on to the IRS website, you’ll be able to keep up with changes in the tax laws, which is an important part of tax planning.

We all love getting a tax refund, and, whether it’s a check in the mail, or an electronic deposit made directly to your bank account, why not give E-filing a try and hasten that happy day?
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries, led by Dayton, merged with Christian Financial Concepts, led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the web at www.crown.org.

    About the Author

  • Howard Dayton