E-filing: Tips and warnings for online taxpayers


With warmer weather in the forecast, it can be very easy to put off one of the most important spring tasks: filing taxes. Even though the April 15 deadline is quickly approaching, many Missourians still have not filed taxes. Taxpayers can be at ease, however, because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a convenient electronic-filing (e-filing) option online to help those with time constraints.

According to the IRS, filing income taxes online results in faster refunds, greater accuracy and quicker confirmation, taking some of the worry out of a stressful time. Other benefits of e-filing include secure and confidential submission, a "file now, pay later" option, 24/7 access, and the ability to confidentially save tax information for next year. Because of these benefits, the popularity of e-filing is increasing by a lot. As of March 12, 2010, more than 21 million income tax returns were filed using home computers--an increase of almost 1.5 million from just one year ago.

The IRS also considers e-filing to be the most secure method of handling sensitive tax information because it is submitted through a secure web site. The lack of paper trails associated with e-filing prevents tax forms from getting lost in the, decreasing the risk of identity theft and making last-minute filing safer.

Despite its acclaimed safety, many Missourians may still be weary when filing taxes online. For maximum security, follow safety measures from experts like Chris Lloyd, a technical support representative and installer at Socket, a Missouri-based telephone and Internet provider.

"There are a number of precautions you should take when submitting private information through the Web," states Lloyd. "Remember to log out of all tax-related computer programs when you're done, and if you choose to use an online tax preparation service, check the privacy policies before selecting one."

The Internet also identifies secure Web sites with specific Web addresses and symbols. Make sure any tax preparation Web address begins with "https" to indicate it is a secure site. Also, it's easy to identify secure sites that have either a closed padlock or unbroken key symbol at the bottom of your Web browser.

E-filing is also a reliable way to be sure information is accurately recorded by the IRS in a timely way. When filing taxes on paper, IRS employees must retype all handwritten information, so messy handwriting can result in information being entered wrong. By automatically calculating numbers, e-filing also prevents common math errors that are made on paper tax forms.

Taxpayers also have other options to strengthen the security of e-file by selecting a reputable e-file provider. Well-known companies such as H&R Block, TaxACT and TurboTax all have credible options for filing online. For a list of e-file providers authorized and supported by the IRS, visit www.irs.gov under the "e-file" button. Nearly all e-file providers charge a small fee, however, a person who earns $56,000 a year or less may qualify for Free File.

While e-filing used to be recommended only for taxpayers with a straightforward return, providers have improved e-filing to better meet taxpayers' needs. However, for some taxpayers there are a few situations where e-filing is not the best option. According to tax professional and writer, William Perez, e-filing is not recommended for Missourians claiming a dependent who has already been claimed by someone else, or anyone wanting to submit a specific tax form that is not offered through e-file.

"E-filing may not be for everyone," says Lloyd. "But e-file providers are working hard to continually improve user-friendly programs, and to keep up with the growing needs of busy taxpayers."

Socket Tech Talk is provided as a service to distribute general information concerning technology-related topics. Please consult your local computer expert for information specific to your situation.