Pay It Forward; Or, Can the Web Offer
by Irene E. McDermott Reference Librarian/System
Manager San Marino Public Library
trick is to stop thinking of it as 'your' money."
Once again, the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward
the sun. The return of songbirds and the unfolding
of green leaves on black branches herald the arrival
of one of two inevitable life-events. If you are not
dead, then it must be time to file your tax return.
I complain about ceding that sizeable chunk of my
gross income to the government every year. Yet, I know
that my taxes go toward important things like picking
up the trash, running my son's public school, and hey,
paying my salary. Still, to me, paying taxes
is like spending money for tube socks. Necessary, but
Still, the Web can make paying taxes more enjoyable,
or at least less excruciating. A variety of free advice
resources and Web-based applications can help us all
negotiate tricky tax laws. Maybe we can even figure
out how to save some money on our taxes, or
rather, to avoid overpaying. It's worth a shot.
File Online for Free
"I see a good deal of talk from
Washington about lowering taxes. I hope they do get
'em lowered enough so people can afford to pay 'em."
The big news is that federal tax authorities recently
launched an electronic filing initiative that allows
millions of us to file our annual tax returns over
the Internet for free.
Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of
Management and Budget, announced the new service by
noting, "Simply paying taxes is burden enough without
the extra costs in time and professional help that
too many Americans have endured until now. The advent
of free, fast filing for a substantial majority of
taxpayers marks a great breakthrough."
Why is the government helping us out? Well, the Internal
Revenue Service would like to have 80 percent of taxpayers
filing online by 2007. Still, lawmakers did not want
the IRS site to compete with private industry. In a
compromise, a public/private partnership with 17 companies,
called the "Free File Alliance," was created to get
the program off the ground.
The Free File Alliance
The IRS provides annotated links to the 17 members
of the Free File Alliance. Members include such trusted
tax names as CCH's CompleteTax, TurboTax,
and H&R Block. All of the Alliance members have
different criteria for free filing eligibility. Browse
their features, or use the Free File Wizard to help
you choose a service.
This year, the IRS has designated only seven states
where every resident can e-file for free: Arizona,
Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and North
Carolina. In other states, free filing is restricted
to the low in age and income or those on the opposite
end of the scale. Taxpayers of middle age and income,
in general, must pay a fee to file their federal tax
Also, because the members of the "Free File Alliance" are commercial
vendors, expect them to pitch you products and services
beyond their basic free package. Watch for charges
for offers such as loans in anticipation of tax refunds
and state tax return preparation. Citizens should especially
be aware that 28 states offer at least some free e-filing
of state returns over the Web. Find more information
at the Federation of Tax Administrators site [http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/link/internet.html].
Half a loaf is better than none, as they say. It's
worth a look-see to determine if free electronic filing
could work its magic for you this year.
Tax Portals and Directories
"Your federal government needs
your money so that it can perform vital services
for you that you would not think up yourself in a
Before you do any filing, you may well want to assess
the general state of your finances in the light of
new tax laws. If your situation is too complicated,
you will need the help of a tax professional to get
the most out of your return. Browse these directories
to get the feel of just how much help you will need.
Yahoo! Tax Center
Yahoo! offers this all-purpose portal to tax information
on the Web. In addition to over 200 articles about
general topics in the area, this site offers tips for
tax planning around investment income, divorce, and
retirement. Use the free tax calculators here to figure
out your good (or bad) news. Once you figure it all
out, use this site to pay your taxes online or over
the telephone in return for a small "convenience fee."
Uncle Fed's Tax Board
Jack Warren Wade, Jr., author of Audit-Proofing
Your Tax Return, is the uncle behind Uncle Fed's.
He and his cohorts none of them associated
with the government, by the way offer a panoply
of tax articles and links as a public service. Look
here for links to fill-in IRS forms, GAO reports
on the IRS for the last few years, and even a countdown
calendar, accurate to the second, until April 15,
when your taxes are due. File your returns on this
site through a partnership with H&R Block. Thanks,
Drake Software, provider of tax software for professionals,
has put together this portal with useful news and information
for both tax preparers and payers. Download tax forms,
file online for $15 or less, or find a tax professional
in your area, all through this site. Sign up for the
free tax information e-newsletter. "1040.com is your
one-stop tax source!"
Tax Resources on the Web
California-based tax accountant Alan G. Kalman, BBA,
MST, offers this well-organized, thorough, yet graphics-challenged
directory of tax links. Hey, he's an accountant, not
an artist! Find links to answer all your tax questions,
including how to handle those pesky excessive viatical
or accelerated death benefits.
Tax and Accounting Sites Directory
Dennis Schmidt, professor of Accounting at the University
of Northern Iowa, maintains this comprehensive index
of Web-based tax and accounting resources.
Tax Planning: U.S.
Shellie L. Moore, an Ohio-based CPA, is the About.com
guide to U.S. taxes. She offers detailed reviews of
tax books, services, and software. Visit her site for
links to quality information about estate taxes, as
well as tax considerations in retirement planning,
mutual fund dividends, and having an office at home.
Tax Advice, Planning, and Calculators
"Like mothers, taxes are often
misunderstood, but seldom forgotten."
Maybe you don't need to hire a professional if you
can find just the right advice to answer your questions.
Tax Mama: Tax Information with a Mother's Touch
Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, offers this "nice, homey,
helpful place to visit for anyone seeking guidance
on income tax issues or, heaven forbid, problems." She
answers many questions that she receives via e-mail
and posts those exchanges on her site. "This is the
fifth year I'm answering questions for free. There
are thousands of answers already on the site," Rosenberg
Fun with Taxes
Gail Perry is a CPA and author of TurboTax Deluxe,
the Official Guide. Each week here at Fun with
Taxes.com, Perry offers useful tax planning tips
and responds to your tax-related questions. Visit
her "Tax Preparation Toolbox" to find such helpful
applications as the "Tax Withholding Calculator," the "Tax
Refund Calculator," the "IRA Calculator," and, from
the Salvation Army, "Valuation Tables" to help you
calculate the value of your charitable donations.
Bankrate.com Taxes: Rates, Forms and Free Advice
This aggregator of information about financial products
offers a well-organized portal designed to help consumers
make the best decisions about their taxes. Read about "tax
basics" as well as a series of clearly written articles
about the latest changes in tax laws.
Nolo Law Centers Encyclopedia: Taxes and Audits
The above URL will get you to the Encyclopedia main
page. Click on "Taxes and Audits" on the left side
of the page to get general legal advice about such
things as "How to Deal with the IRS," "How to Reduce
the Chance of an Audit," and "See Your Home as a Tax
Wiley: Lasser Tax Advisor
Come early April, J. K. Lasser's Your Income Tax is
the most popular title in our reference collection.
Visit this site to pick up some solid tips on basic
tax questions. Don't see your answer here? You can
submit your question. Those with wide reader interest
will be answered on the site or in the free Lasser
Tax Advisor Newsletter.
Fool.com Tax Center
Let Motley Fool's David and Tom Gardner and their
cohorts give you solid tax information in an irreverent
yet factual fashion. The featured article this season
is "Five Things You Gotta Know About Taxes."
Free Tax Tools from Quicken.com
Intuit says that it takes "your taxes seriously.
That's why we've created these helpful tools to slash
your taxes. Rather than figure out complicated tax
laws, just enter your information into these tools,
and we'll show you how to make a big impact on your
tax bill." Cool! Use the "College Savings Planner," a
calculator to help you decide "Which Stock Lot Should
You Sell?" and a "Tax Relief Estimator" to see how
the tax cut will benefit you over the next 9 years.
Tax Resources from America's Top Rated Tax
H&R Block and Kiplinger's Finance offer this
set of tools to help us all get our taxes as low as
possible. Use the site's Withholding Calculator to
make sure that you don't owe a lump sum in April. Read
advice on tax planning, keep up with tax law changes,
or read my favorite part with tips on how to "Cut Your
Edmonton-based Equade Internet brings us this portal
designed to offer tax information all of us can understand.
As such, it features a question and answer section
with the kind of issues any of us might wonder about.
For example, find out whether it is better to trade
in an old car or to donate it to charity. This site
also includes a large dictionary of tax terms and tips.
"The hardest thing in the world
understand is income tax!"
Perhaps you've decided that you just can't solve
the snag you've hit by yourself. It's time to call
in the pros. Try to line one up early in the season,
though. Their calendars fill up pretty quickly.
TaxBrain Online Tax Center
Ladies and gentlemen over the age of 50: TaxBrain
has taken pity on your "elderly" state. This site promises
that it will help you file your taxes electronically
for free. Check here also for advice from tax guru
J. K. Lasser.
"When I was living in China a few years ago, I used
TurboTax for the Web to file my taxes over the Internet," says
Scott, one of our library's computer guru guys. File
online or buy the software for your own computer, Intuit's
TurboTax will give you plenty of help. Find more help
on is site. Heck, you can even calculate how much the
President's recent tax proposal will probably save
CompleteTax charges $24.95 to figure out your taxes,
but it will file them electronically for nix. Check
out the free tax information here.
TaxGaga: E-File IRS Federal and State Taxes
and Income Tax Extensions
E-file your taxes through TaxGaga for $19.95. Or,
let the site professionally prepare your return for
about $40. Read the articles about various difficult
tax situations, too. These cover topics such as the
best way to file if you are a single mom and what to
do if you want to avoid being audited.
Other Tax Issues
"A taxpayer is someone who works
for the federal government but
who doesn't have to take a civil
Just saying the word "taxes" is a political act that
drives many Americans into apoplexy. In Washington,
D.C., no one dares to breathe the word. Instead, they
use the euphemism "revenue."
Political dynasties have ruled the U.S. for decades
on the premise that government is evil and that taxes
are unfair to the working person. It may help to read
opinions and history on the issue to help us think
about taxes rationally, sans the red fog of
rage that ordinarily clouds our eyes the moment anyone
mentions the subject.
This nonpartisan resource examines the public data
about the Internal Revenue Service then tries to discern
a pattern in tax law enforcement behavior. Very interesting.
Will you be audited for this year's return? Sign up
for free e-mail alerts to discover your odds.
The Tax History Project at Tax Analysts
Since 1995, Joseph J. Thorndike has offered this
analysis of tax history "to provide scholars, policy
makers, students, the media, and citizens with information
about the history of American taxation." Get the goods
on how the income tax began to finance the Civil War,
on how reorganization at the Internal Revenue Service
causes tax audit rates to drop, and other interesting
bits of tax trivia.
The D.C.-based Tax Foundation bills itself as "an
objective, unbiased" clearinghouse of tax information
to the American public since 1937. Still, its analysis
is decidedly pro-Bush. Read the site's optimistic take
on how much we can all expect from the 2003 presidential
proposal for tax rebates.
It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, "But in this
world nothing can be said to be certain, except death
and taxes." True. And did you know that death planning
via the Web is on the rise?
No matter how much you end up owing Uncle Sam, I
hope that these Web sites make the experience of figuring
it out a lot easier than dying. These sites were all
alive in February 2003.
The Old-Fashioned Way
"They say that the wages of sin is death. But
after taxes it's just a tired feeling,
"I don't know why," my husband tells me, "but I just
don't feel comfortable filing online."
Books, he'll buy online, but he will not file our
taxes that way. It's not that he feels that the transmission
method is insecure. He just wants to carry to the post
office the actual piece of paper bearing the numbers
that he wrote down. This ensures that he submits exactly
what he meant to file. He's afraid that otherwise,
a slip of a finger on a keyboard and a push of the "send" button
might open up a world of trouble.
He does use tax software. Still, I see so many folks
come into the library in search of paper tax forms two
copies each, please. These are people who wouldn't
dream of touching a computer to help them do something
as important as figuring their tax returns.
For these people and their librarians here
are the sites to visit:
IRS Forms and Publications
Can't find that federal tax form that your patron
simply must have? What about that obscure Form 8863
that allows you to file for an education credit? Or
maybe your public library ran out of that popular Schedule
A. Forget about copying those glossy, slippery forms
out of that IRS notebook. Instead, go online and print
out your forms in PDF format.
Federation of Tax Administrators
The Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) was formed
in 1937 to provide intergovernmental and interstate
tax coordination. Visit this portal for quick links
to tax forms from all 50 states.
Tax Related Primary Resources on the Internet
Richard J. Joseph, senior lecturer and director,
Master in Professional Accounting Degree Programs at
the University of Texas at Austin, has compiled and
annotated this stark list of links to primary government
and legal tax documents. Read the court opinions and
tax laws that are at the root of our misery this time
Irene McDermott's e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.