Tax Time -- Your Personal Accountant in Cyberspace

April 17 is around the corner, bringing confusion, fear, and despair to millions of taxpayers. Tax preparing services, like H&R Block, charge hefty fees to assist consumers and small businesses with the intimidating task of filing the right forms. For several years now, software makers offer a broad variety of programs to take away business from accountants and encourage customers to take responsibility of their record keeping and tax filing needs. Intuit with Quicken, Quick Books, and Macintax is probably the leading seller for do-it-yourself accounting, followed by Peachtree, MYOB, and Microsoft Money. No matter if one relies on software or good old paper journals, once the important data are collected and archived, the check books balanced, all receipts in order, it's time to file.Electronic filing, the same process professional tax preparers use to speed up refund time from about 7 weeks to meager 10 days, is advisable. In the new millennium, even the IRS is participating, calling their online filing system e-file (available for individuals only). E-file is advertised as "the fastest, most accurate way to file your taxes" by the IRS. TurboTax, by Intuit, hails electronic filing as "the fastest way to get your refund. It's as simple as 1,2,3". TaxAct, by 2nd Story Software, states: "[TaxAct] ... completes your taxes faster and easier than ever É " This sounds too good to be true -- so what exactly are the benefits of do-it-yourself accounting and e-filing?The first thing that comes to mind is not the time or the money one may save, but the insight in one's own financial affairs. All programs show how much money was spent for transportation, recreation or medical expenses, to just name a few. This knowledge, imperative to the business owner, is helpful to the individual to plan and adjust personal finances. Once familiar with data entry and statistic features, the user can drastically reduce the amount of hours spend with record keeping, financial analysis and planning. Finally, all applications perform mathematical functions, eliminating calculation errors. Electronic Filing, possible with TurboTax ($9.95), TaxAct ($7.95), and many others, speeds up the refund, reduces the chance of receiving an error notice, and provides proof of acceptance within 48 hours. Most tax preparation programs work with a user friendly inquiry feature, where the user answers filing related questions and the program places those data in the appropriate schedules and performs all necessary calculations. The tax information proceeds electronically into the IRS processing system, which eliminates the possibility of IRS data entry errors. The electronically filed return is also much less likely to get hung up in processing, since it's more accurate. As a final courtesy, the tax application will calculate the refund amount and deduct e-filing fees from a checking/saving's account or credit card. Another time saver is the easy payment option provided with e-filing. A balance due to the IRS may be paid through Direct Deposit or by credit card until April 17, 2000; a refund can be received by Direct Deposit, both through a private and secure site. In a nutshell, electronic record keeping and e-filing has become too simple, inexpensive, and effective to be ignored any further. The time and money saved are certainly welcome to anybody; insight in spending habits might be an eye opener and may lead the way to financial independence. Yet, the most important aspect for many is experiencing the pride of taking charge of this very private task and mastering the challenge of the Tax-Return-Nightmare.Web SitesThe official IRS site is a good place to get started and look for information and advice and download forms. Services are free! http://www.irs.govIntuit's site not only offers a wide variety of information on all products, but also a FREE download of TurboTax, with e-filing for $ 9.95 per filing (multiple filings will add up!) http://intuit.comKiplinger's TaxCut, using H&R Block software, let filers prepare returns online for a flat fee of $9.95, file electronically without charge and receive refunds as fast as 48 hours. Wow! http://www.taxcut.comHttp://FileYourTaxes.com is a true online option. No software to download, direct deposit option, and pricing starting at $14.00.Another online based application is located at http://filesafe.com. No software to download, free access to the system and the option to deduct the filing fee from an expected refund. Filesafe is recommended for simple returns only, since the client needs to look up every item in an included library and fill in data in the appropriate forms.TaxAct comes in a free standard edition or a more comfortable deluxe edition ($9.95) Both editions allow e-filing for $7.95 and use a user-friendly inquiry feature to retrieve information. http://taxact.comLast Words: Always double check that the software you're working with is for the tax year 1999.Special TipSign up for a free trial account with stamps.com and receive $20.00 in free postage, plus a free copy of Quicken Turbo Tax 1999, together with a coupon for one free electronic filing.

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