E-Filing for Taxes Begins Jan. 16

E-filing for 2008 taxes begins this Friday, January 16. The IRS will allow e-files beginning that day with expanded access and assistance for people that are trying to get their refunds faster as the economic downturn continues. TaxACT is a great way to file your taxes electronically.

Internal Revenue Service Tax Tips on Shoeboxed Blog
Internal Revenue Service Tax Tips on Shoeboxed Blog

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced the Jan. 16 opening of an expanded IRS e-file program for 2008 federal tax returns, highlighted by new features that will allow expanded access to electronic filing and help people looking for faster refunds.

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman encouraged taxpayers to explore e-file this year as the best option to file accurate tax returns and get fast refunds during the current economic downturn. The e-file program also includes new improvements to the Free File program that will allow nearly all taxpayers to e-file for free.

“These are tough times, and e-file is the best way for people to get cash in their pocket quickly,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Filing electronically with direct deposit can get refunds to taxpayers in as few as 10 days. Combined with important changes in the Free File program, we believe e-file is a better option than ever before for the nation’s taxpayers.”

Last year the average refund was $2,429. The IRS realizes people need their refunds quickly. Shulman urged people who haven’t e-filed before to consider the e-file option this year.

IRS e-file totaled nearly 90 million tax returns in 2008. Almost 58 percent of all returns were filed electronically. Last year, there was a surge in e-file from home computers. Nearly 27 million people prepared their own e-file return. That’s an increase of more than 19 percent from the previous year.

IRS e-file meets the needs of nearly all taxpayers, no matter how complicated or simple their returns are. E-file helps taxpayers take advantage of the tax credits available to them to maximize their refunds during these tough economic times.

A variety of tax software products are available commercially that offer e-file. This year, several of them will not charge additional fees for e-filing for the first time.

In addition, most taxpayers qualify for free tax preparation offered through Free File on IRS.gov. Regardless of income level, taxpayers who are comfortable with filling out paper tax forms and who don’t need extra assistance can use the IRS’s new Free File Fillable Forms. These new online versions of paper tax forms that can be e-filed are available for the first time by visiting the IRS.gov Free File site.

Benefits of e-File

Taxpayers who use e-file and who choose direct deposit can receive their refund in as few as 10 days. That’s because with e-file, there’s no paper return going to the IRS. And with direct deposit, there’s no paper refund going to the taxpayer. So it’s all electronic and much faster than paper.

IRS e-file allows taxpayers to file their returns now and pay later if they owe taxes. It allows taxpayers to file both federal and most state returns at the same time.

Taxpayers may use IRS e-file through their tax preparers, or with a computer using tax preparation software. This software is available on the Internet for online use or for download. Many retail stores sell the software for offline use. The IRS does not charge taxpayers to e-file their completed returns, but some tax preparers and software manufactures may charge a fee. However, this year a number of large software companies are waiving this additional fee.

To get all the benefits of electronic filing, taxpayers must make sure that when they are done with their returns, they take the final step of e-filing them. Taxpayers who use a paid preparer should make sure their preparers are taking this final step, too. In addition to error checks contained in the return-preparation software, additional checks are done during the e-file transmission process. That’s why the error rate is so low for e-filed returns. In fact, the error rate is significantly reduced from 20 percent with paper returns to about 1 percent with e-filed returns.

E-filed tax return information is protected through encryption. Also, taxpayers receive an acknowledgement within 48 hours that the IRS has accepted their return.

Free File

Free File, which is a form of e-file, is a free federal tax preparation and electronic filing program for eligible taxpayers developed through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance LLC. The Alliance is a group of private-sector tax software companies. Since Free File’s debut in 2003, a total of more than 24 million returns have been prepared and e-filed through the program.

Free File offers 20 different software options that can assist taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $56,000 or less in 2008 to e-file their federal tax returns for free. That means 70 percent of all taxpayers – 98 million taxpayers – can take advantage of tax software that will help them complete their returns through the Free File program. Three companies are offering their products in Spanish.

This year, the IRS and its partners are offering a new option, Free File Fillable Tax Forms, which opens up Free File to virtually everyone, even those whose incomes exceed $56,000.

Free File Fillable Tax Forms allows taxpayers to fill out and file their tax forms electronically, just as they would on paper. This option does not include an “interview” process like the other Free File offerings, but it does allow taxpayers to enter their tax data, perform basic math calculations, sign electronically, print their returns for recordkeeping and e-file their returns. This “self-service” option may be right for those who are comfortable with the tax law, know what forms they want to use or don’t need assistance to complete their returns.

Both the fillable-forms option and the previously available “full service” Free File offerings are available only through the IRS.gov Web site. Both new and returning taxpayers must access Free File through IRS.gov. Otherwise, the e-file provider may charge them a fee. Look for details on IRS.gov beginning Jan. 16.

Almost 4.8 million tax returns were filed through Free File last year, an increase of 24 percent over the previous year’s total of nearly 3.9 million returns.

History of IRS e-File

The IRS began the e-file program in 1986 as a pilot project in three cities: Cincinnati, Phoenix and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. That year, there were 25,000 tax returns filed electronically. The e-file program expanded nationwide in 1990 and 4.2 million tax returns were filed. IRS e-file has undergone tremendous growth each year, with nearly 90 million tax returns e-filed last year.

IRS Tips For Hiring a Tax Preparer

For most people, using a free service like TaxACT can be a useful and comprehensive way to file their taxes.

If you are dead set, however, on hiring a tax preparer for your taxes, the IRS has a few tips to follow to make sure you don’t hire someone who is inadequate. Here’s what to look for in a tax preparer:

  • Find out what the service fees are before the return is prepared. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund or who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
  • Only use a tax professional that signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.
  • Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.
  • Choose a tax preparer that will be around to answer questions after the return has been filed.
  • Ask questions. Do you know anyone who has used the tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?
  • Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs or the state’s bar association for attorneys. Find out if the preparer belongs to a professional organization that requires its members to pursue continuing education and also holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
  • Determine if the preparer’s credentials meet your needs.  Does your state have licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers?  Is he or she an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant, or Attorney?  If so, the preparer can represent taxpayers before the IRS on all matters – including audits, collections, and appeals.   Other return preparers can represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return signed as a preparer.
  • Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions.

Top 10 Tax-Time Tips

The IRS has released its list of the top 10 tax tips for the upcoming tax season. Sticking to these can cultivate a “less taxing” experience for you come April 15, 2009.

1. Gather your records…now! It’s never too early to start getting together any documents or forms you’ll need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks, and other documents that support an item of income or a deduction you’re taking on your return. Also, be on the lookout for W-2s and 1099s, coming soon from your employer.

2. Find your forms. Whether you file a 1040 or 1040-EZ, you can download all IRS forms and publications on our Web site, IRS.gov.

3. Do a little research. Check out Publication 17 on IRS.gov. It’s a comprehensive collection of information for taxpayers highlighting everything you’ll need to know when filing your return. Review Pub 17 to ensure you’re taking all credits and deductions for which you’re eligible.

4. Think ahead to how you’ll file. Will you prepare your return yourself or go to a preparer? Do you qualify to file at no cost using Free File on IRS.gov? Are you eligible for free help at an IRS office or volunteer site? Will you purchase tax preparation software or file online? There are many things to consider. So, give yourself time to weigh them all and find the option that best suits your needs.

5. Take your time. Rushing to get your return filed increases the chance you will make a mistake and not catch it.

6. Double-check your return. Mistakes will slow down the processing of your return. In particular, make sure all the Social Security Numbers and math calculations are correct as these are the most common errors made by taxpayers.

7. Consider e-file. When you file electronically, the computer will handle the math calculations for you, and you will get your refund in about half the time it takes when you file a paper return.

8. Think about Direct Deposit. If you elect to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you’ll receive it faster than waiting for a check by mail.

9. Visit IRS.gov often. The official IRS Web site is a great place to find everything you’ll need to file your tax return: forms, tips, FAQs and updates on tax law changes.

10. Relax. There’s no need to panic. If you run into a problem, remember the IRS is here to help. Try IRS.gov or call our customer service number at 800-829-1040.

Remember, for easy receipt management, Shoeboxed offers easy solutions that don’t require that you spend hours in front of a scanner. TaxACT offers great tax software for the upcoming tax season as well.

Top Ten Tax Tips
Top Ten Tax Tips