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Archive for Sunday, January 25, 2004

Information source to limit confusion

January 25, 2004

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— New tax laws will make this year's taxes even more complicated than usual, but the IRS hopes to lift some of the confusion with a new feature designed to help taxpayers find information quickly and easily.

The new information source, called 1040 Central, aims to link taxpayers to detailed information and answer their most common questions. It's available on the IRS home page, and it gathers items from throughout the Web site that can best help individuals filing the common Form 1040 tax forms.

This year, taxpayers can expect to have many questions about new tax laws and tax breaks enacted last summer. Reduced rates on capital gains and dividends, in particular, have added a layer of complexity to forms used by investors.

Most taxpayers get packages of tax forms and instructions from the IRS in early January. The IRS expects to receive 131 million returns in 2004, 60 million of them filed electronically.

Taxpayers who filed their taxes through computer in previous years will not receive the traditional package. They can expect to receive a brochure that explains electronic filing and the identification program used for paperless filing. Some taxpayers with simple returns may be able to file by telephone.

IRS officials say electronic filing, when combined with the direct deposit of a refund into a taxpayer's bank account, speeds refunds to taxpayers in as few as 10 days. The average time is about 14 days. In 2003, more than 44 million refunds were deposited directly into taxpayers' bank accounts. Taxpayers filing the traditional way can wait up to six weeks for a refund.

The IRS also can quickly check for mathematical mistakes and other common errors on electronically filed returns, reducing the chance your tax return will be sent back to you to fix an error.

For the second year, the IRS will make electronic filing programs available to some taxpayers free through its Web site. Companies participating in the Free File Alliance set the guidelines for taxpayers to use their programs without charge.

The IRS will send 34 million tax packages and nearly 28 million computer filing brochures this year. The effort costs $7.5 million to print and $12 million to mail, and average cost of 31 cents per package.

Taxpayers should use the name labels included in the mailed packages on their tax returns. They will have to add their Social Security numbers.

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