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Archive for Monday, April 13, 1998

S HELP FOR PROCRASTINATORS

April 13, 1998

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It's a proud tradition, this waiting until the last minute to file. But it's also stressful. Here are some tips to help you get through it.

The Orange County Register

Hold your head high, tax procrastinators. You're part of a proud American tradition.

Many Americans wait till the last moment to file their income tax returns, which are due Wednesday.

That's true even though many of us are due refunds, which should be a pretty big incentive to file earlier.

No one ever said the income tax process was logical. Because it is inevitable, however, here are some resources and ideas for getting through the week.

Need forms?

It's too late to get forms sent to you by mail, and the selections at most libraries, post offices and banks are picked bare (although some libraries and copy centers have forms you can reproduce for a small fee). You can get federal returns faxed to you by calling the IRS fax line at (703) 368-9694.

If you have access to the Internet, you can download any form you need at www.irs.ustreas.gov.

Help available

The IRS expanded the hours for its toll-free help line at (800) 829-1040; the phone is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET. Recorded tax topics are available 24 hours a day at (800) 829-4477; the topics and answers also are listed at www.irs.ustreas.gov, the IRS Web site.

Most of the big accounting firms have consumer-oriented tax information and ``frequently asked questions'' sections on their Web sites. Ernst & Young at www.ey.com and KPMG Peat Marwick at www.us.kpmg.com offer good general information and ideas for tax savings. Deloitte & Touche's site at www.dtonline.com is definitely geared for the well-heeled. (In a section called ``17 Tips for Everyone,'' the site recommends forming a private foundation and donating appreciated stock to the new organization. Get right on that, Jeeves.)

Your local bookstore stocks several helpful guides. Some of the best-selling ones include ``J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 1998'' ($14.95), ``The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 1998'' ($15.95), ``The American Express Tax Guide 1998'' ($12.95) and ``Taxes for Dummies'' ($14.99).

Need a tax preparer?

Chances are that most certified public accountants, enrolled agents and other full-time tax preparation professionals are booked solid. For future reference, you can call the National Association of Enrolled Agents at (800) 424-4339. (Enrolled agents are tax specialists who are authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS.) You can troll the phone book for accountants and CPAs; look for those who specialize in preparing individual tax returns.

Your best bet may be H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and other tax preparation chains. Check in your local phone book. Prices start at $25.

Several CPAs offer online tax preparation services that include personal phone consultation and a Q&A format. Returns are mailed to you by two-day delivery, so you have to get crackin'. Sites include CPA 1040 at www.cpa1040.com, TaxLogic at www.taxlogic.com and Tax Wizard at www.taxwizard.com. Prices start at $75 with additional charges for each form.

You can also figure and file your return using tax software, including the popular TurboTax or TaxCut. IRS spokesman Chris Conley said he prepared his 1040 with a Schedule A for itemized deductions in less than a minute.

Want a fast refund?

Opt for direct deposit, which allows the IRS and the FTB to plunk your check directly into your bank account.

Some people worry about the check going awry, or shy away from direct deposit because they don't want the IRS to know their bank account numbers. The fact that a check is more likely to be stolen in the mail, and that the IRS already knows the account numbers -- thanks to 1099s and other forms -- often fails to reassure them.

Electronic filing also can speed your refund by one or two weeks and is required by the state if you want direct deposit.

Need more time?

You can get a four-month extension from the feds by filing Form 4868. But that is only an extension on filing -- you still have to estimate and pay any taxes owed.

If you can't pay, file anyway. Penalties for not filing are usually much higher than for not paying.

Pay as much as you can; the IRS will send you a bill for the rest. You also may ask for an installment agreement to pay off your tax bill. Fill out Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request.

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