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Satisfying IRS need not be taxing situation

February 12, 2006

The TeleFile program no longer exists, but the filing deadline has been extended and an IRS spokesman says electronic filing is easier than ever.

By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

Thanks to a fortuitous calendar date and a Massachusetts state holiday, procrastinators in Maryland can put off filing their tax returns for a little longer than usual this year.

Maryland residents must file their tax forms this year by April 18, not the traditional doomsday date of April 15, said Jim Dupree, IRS spokesman for Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.

April 15 falls on a Saturday, meaning the last day to file was pushed to Monday, April 17. However, starting this year Maryland residents must send their tax returns to Massachusetts instead of Philadelphia. On April 17 Massachusetts will celebrate Patriot's Day, a state holiday held in remembrance of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

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As a result, tax forms must be filed electronically or postmarked by Tuesday, April 18.

Sending forms to Andover, Mass., instead of Philadelphia is just one of many changes Maryland residents face this year, Dupree said.

Envelopes and tax forms already have the Massachusetts address printed on them, but for years some people have been writing simply "IRS, Philadelphia, PA" on their envelopes, Dupree said.

This year such people need to make sure they send their forms to Massachusetts.

TeleFile eliminated

Another change is that people can no longer file their return over the phone via the TeleFile program.

The program was costly but fewer people were using it, prompting the IRS to cease offering it, Dupree said.

"More people are moving toward electronic returns," Dupree said.

People who were eligible to file over the telephone in years past now might be able to file for free electronically, provided they meet income guidelines.

Another change is an improved IRS Web site - www.irs.gov

"We put more of the facts that people need on the home page," Dupree said.

A link titled "1040 Central" has the latest tax news, tips and tools. Users of the site also can access more than 5,000 tax forms and pieces of information that can be printed out.

As its name suggests, a link titled "Where's My Refund?" shows whether a person's refund has been sent.

The Web site also has information to let people know whether they are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma will find information geared toward them.

For some, seeing the first tax form or W-2 arrive in the mail brings a sense of dread, but Dupree said it doesn't have to be that way.

Software, benefits

Filing electronically is a lot easier than some people think.

Software programs, which can be purchased at many stores, ask questions while guiding users through the filing process.

"You basically just answer the questions and the software is filling out the forms," Dupree said.

Sometimes while answering such questions people come across tax benefits they might not otherwise have discovered, Dupree said.

Many people do not even have to buy a software program. An estimated 70 percent of U.S. taxpayers can file for free via the IRS' Web site.

Twenty companies offer free filing services for those with adjusted gross income levels of $50,000 or less.

Some have additional restrictions based on age, income or the state of residence.

Filing electronically allows for more peace of mind, Dupree said, because there's no need to worry about paperwork getting lost in the mail.

Within 48 hours, electronic filers receive notice that their information has been received.

Overall, filing electronically allows people to receive their returns faster; and those with direct deposit who file electronically have a chance of receiving their refunds within two weeks, Dupree said.

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