Smart TaxesSmart Taxes

How to go electronic with your taxes

The IRS is accepting returns and sending refunds electronically. Maybe it's time to do all your tax paperwork online.

By Kay Bell Feb 1, 2011 4:42PM

I ordered a bedskirt online a couple of weeks ago. Or I tried to. The company's order process didn't provide me with a confirmation page. So I called customer service and placed the order by phone.


On Friday I got the bedskirt. On Saturday, I got another bedskirt. Apparently, even though the company's website didn't tell me it got my order just fine, it did. I'll be sending one bedskirt back, after I make sure the company will pay the return shipping.


You might be thinking that, given this experience, I'm done with online ordering. I am, but only with that company.


In most everything else, I'm a big fan of electronic communications (hey, you're reading this blog post, right!?) and commerce.


And that applies to my taxes, too.


So that's why Today's Tax Tip is to take your taxes electronic.


Most of you are like me, wired in our daily lives, so it only makes sense to go electronic at tax time, too.


Not only can you e-file your federal tax return, you probably can find a way to do so for free. If your adjusted gross income last year was $58,000 or less, check out Free File.


Have some filing questions? There are smartphone tax apps to help, including one that lets 1040-EZ taxpayers file from their mobile device. Heck, even the IRS has an app for taxes!


If you're getting a refund, having it directly deposited will get you your tax cash sooner. This year, the Treasury is creating a prepaid debit card program so that folks without bank accounts can get their refunds that way instead of a paper check, although some folks have raised questions about just how it will work.


If you owe Uncle Sam, you have several e-payment options. There are credit cards, of course. But you also can set up an account with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or EFTPS, and have your tax payment sent from your bank account to the Treasury.


You can even set up your full year's estimated tax payments on EFTPS so you don't have to worry about missing the quarterly deadlines. Just make sure you do have the funds in your account on those debit days!


The records you need to file your 1040 are electronic. Most companies and employers nowadays deliver tax statements (W-2s, 1099s) via e-mail or making them downloadable from websites.


As for your personal records, if you don't want stacks of paper piling up, scan the receipts and other tax material and save yourtax documentation digitally.


And don't forget your state taxes. Every state (and most county) tax offices have a website and allow (or even require) you file and pay your local taxes online.


As for my bedskirt anecdote, don't be scared away from online transactions based on my screwed-up bedroom furnishings order.


Yes, I know an online tax error is more intimidating than a wrong order for a household item. But in all my years of online transactions, tax related as well as personal commerce, I've have many more good experiences than bad.


So think about it. If you're not already an electronic IRS customer, consider becoming one this filing season.


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