Finding a place to prepare taxes online is not too difficult these days. Finding good advice on how to prepare your taxes can be another story. Tax preparation advice can come from a variety of sources, including government, enterprise, and non-profit. This article covers a few of the major ones.
Believe it or not, one of the best online tax preparation resources is the IRS. You’ve got to watch your “.govs” and “.coms” though. “Irs.com” is a cleverly disguised informational site fronting for an online tax preparation service. Despite the official-looking building the bare-bones look, all clicks lead to the multi-tiered submission options that may get your taxes to the real IRS, and will put a little cash in their pocket at the same time. I think the actual IRS.gov site looks a bit better, to tell the truth, and that is where you’ll need to go to get actual tax information from the government.
http://Www.irs.gov has gotten better every year at spelling out their procedures and rule changes in plain English. They have finally chosen to begin with the assumption, as the rest of us do, that preparing tax returns is destined to be a confusing process. Just as their telephone interaction has improved, so has their website. It’s designed for the consumer, not the accountant and it’s a good place to start.
H&R Block is something of an eight hundred pound gorilla in the tax preparation game; not only have they been operating a storefront network for generations but they have also acquired one of the two major tax prep software programs, Tax Cut. Their web site has a collection of related articles that may be of value; topics include tax scams, higher education deductions, the alternative minimum tax and other issues that you could spend significant time searching for. If you’re lucky, they’ve written it up – and their articles are professional and thorough. Other than that, the site is interested in selling its online and software versions of Tax Cut. http://Www.hrblock.com
There are online tax preparation services galore these days. Some of them hook you up with an accounting firm, a few of them will sell you a software package and send it to you, but most of them walk you through the forms online. When you’re done, you can file your federal form electronically. Some, though not all, of the online sites provide state returns as well. You can find a comprehensive list of the services out there on Yahoo at http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Business_to_Business/Financial_Services/Accounting/Firms/Tax_Accounting/Return_Preparation/Online_Preparation_and_Electronic_Filing/
If the notion of putting your entire financial soul online through a faceless website makes you nervous – it should. The e-thieves know opportunity when they see it, and tax forms are a great resource for identity theft. Microsoft has a good page on the subject, with multiple recommendations and resources for protecting yourself during the electronic tax preparation process. It’s worth a look at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/privacy/taxes.mspx.
Google has an excellent page on tax preparation that provides categories of services such as online services and software packages, tax forms and tax law. They go on to provide an excellent list of specific sites for tax preparation information. It includes some commercial sites but also lists specific IRS pages, consumer tax information sites, consumer review sites for online services, and sites with advice comments from professionals.
AARP has a tax preparation assistance program that is staffed with trained volunteers. This service is essentially an old-fashioned face to face arrangement, just as you would go through with an accountant. However it’s free of charge and it’s national in scope. You can visit their site and learn about how it works and where to find their assistance sites at http://www.aarp.org/money/taxaide/taxpreparation/. Last year they prepared returns for two million people.
These are just a selection of starting points; it remains, as always, a personal choice: e-rendering unto e-Caesar what is e-Caesars’s.