CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Online filing less taxing

Originally published Monday, February 24, 1997

Cathi Schuler

Of the only two things in life that are guaranteed, at least one is imminent. Yep! It's tax time again. Between now and April 15th, expect to be deluged with the predictable helpful hints, tips, sage advice and requisite news footage of last minute filers lined up at midnight postal drops. It's the same annual drill, just a new year. Why not try something different this time around?

As you might imagine, the Internet - popular new frontier for just about everything - is also host to a number of websites which provide the means for filing your taxes online. It's a novel twist to an otherwise monotonous task and if your tax situation is fairly routine you'll find online tax filing efficient and, at the very least, a diversion.

Like everything else there is good news and bad news about doing your taxes on the Web, but each site I sampled had redeeming qualities that warranted a return visit. Online tax filing isn't for everyone and you'll need to evaluate the available products yourself to determine the suitability for preparing and submitting your tax returns over the Internet.

The Intuit Quicken Financial Network http://www.qfn.com/turbotax/ touts TurboTax 1040EZ as the fastest and easiest method of doing your taxes online. Here, you can complete your return online and print the forms for free or pay a $9.95 fee for electronic filing. It was, in fact, easy, fast and intuitive, but it was far from trouble-free.

I encountered intermittent errors loading the necessary Java applets and printing the Acrobat forms and while my test 1040EZ transmitted easily, I was never able to print the actual form. Tech support was non-existent and the problem solving options were useless.

Because you can't save your work in progress with TurboTax 1040EZ, you must start from the beginning if you quit early or if your Internet connection hiccups. The TurboTax 1040EZ interview was friendly and easy to navigate but only works with Netscape 3.0 or higher and doesn't offer state filing or multiple 1040 options.

Parsons Technology http://www.parsonstech.com/ presents another approach to online tax filing, and like TurboTax 1040EZ, this company is also a subsidiary of Intuit. You must pay $9.95 for a printed copy of your taxes whether or not you actually electronically transmit the return. For an additional $5.00, Parsons will prepare a state tax return as well but 1040EZ is the only federal return supported at this site.

Have patience at Parsons! The Java applet loads very slowly, but once the process commences the "fill-in-the-blanks" routine is simple to follow. Neither Parsons nor the TurboTax 1040EZ site offers security for its Web visitors. Unscrupulous hackers could access your name, social security number and credit card information, but personally I don't believe such a risk is any greater than giving your credit card to a clerk or food server.

SecureTax http://www.securetax.com/ is a richer, more complete online tax service than either TurboTax or Parsons Technology. It's part of Universal Tax Systems, better known for their professional tax preparation product TaxWise which is used by over 5,000 accounting firms for electronic transmission and processing of returns. With SecureTax, your 1040 options are also greatly expanded to include full 1040 returns, 1040A, 1040NR and 1040EZ.

SecureTax provides a high level of security and confidentiality at their website and your return can be edited over and over since it's saved with your Secure number and password. You won't be asked for your real name, social security number or credit card information until your return is finalized and ready for transmission.

The SecureTax step-by-step interview process seemed laborious, however, and the onscreen instructions were at times unclear, but customer support was readily available and excellent. A real person answered my telephone questions immediately and my e-mail query was answered within hours.

State tax filing is available and if you'd like to just sample SecureTax a "practice" return" option is available. 1040EZ returns, both state and federal, can be prepared, transmitted and printed for $7.95. Other 1040 forms run $9.95 for federal and an additional $4.95 for state returns.

If you don't plan to file your taxes online, you can at least visit the IRS site http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/plain/forms_pubs/index.html and retrieve any forms you might be missing for this year. Doing your taxes online won't make the bottom line any more palatable, but at least it's a break from the norm and might even be fun?

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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