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IRS program makes filing returns easier

February 05, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Internal Revenue Service officials predict their new Free File program, an Internet-based tax preparation and filing program, will make filing returns much easier for eligible taxpayers.

The free service is offered through an agreement between the IRS and a consortium of tax software companies called the Free File Alliance, IRS spokesman Jim Dupree said.

The online software for Free File is provided by alliance members. The agreement with the IRS requires the alliance to provide free services to at least 60 percent of the nation's taxpayers during the 2003 filing season.

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Primary candidates for Free File are taxpayers who prepare their own taxes and still file paper returns.

Dupree said filing electronically should cut processing time in half for most returns, and taxpayers could have refunds deposited to their accounts in 10 days or less.

Nearly 47 million returns were filed electronically last year, including more than 897,000 in Maryland, Dupree said.

"We expect a 15 percent increase this year, which is more than 1.6 million in Maryland," he said.

Free File is "a simple process," Dupree said, and users can get their refunds a lot easier. If a user owes taxes, he can even file now and defer payment until April 15.

To find out if you're eligible for Free File, go to the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov and follow the prompts. Each software provider has its own eligibility requirements, but Dupree said the Free File Wizard - which walks users through a questionnaire - will help determine which program is best.

The IRS also offers toll-free telephone service to taxpayers preparing their returns. The IRS Tax Help Line for individuals is 1-800-829-1040. For refund information, call 1-800-829-1954.

Business and corporation information is available from the Business and Specialty Tax Line at 1-800-829-4933.

These numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays. The Help Line for individuals is available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays through April 12 and on Sunday, April 13.

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