Today, for the first time, I filed my tax returns electronically. Last year I had used an online service (TurboTax) to do my returns but I didn’t file electronically. This year I took the plunge, and it was quite convenient.
Last year was the first year I ever used an online service and, let me tell you, that totally rocked! In January of this year TurboTax sent me an email reminder and I was able to start working on my taxes right away (I didn’t even have to pay anything then; you pay only when you complete your return and e-file or print it out). As I received information I simply logged in and updated my 2007 return. One nice thing was initial summary page, which displayed each category with the amount from last year. So, I could quickly see if I was missing something or if a number was out of whack from the number from last year.
The e-filing part was simple. After you pay TurboTax ($99 for fed return, and $39 for the state one) you can e-file. The program checks your return and cautions you if something needs to be re-examined before you upload. You can even choose to have your return examined by a tax professional (probably located in India), but I opted to skip that step since the review that was done automatically seemed pretty thorough. This may seem obvious, but when you e-file you don’t physically sign the return. So how do you authenticate to the IRS?
Answer: you are prompted to enter the amount of your Adjusted Gross Income from the appropriate line of your prior tax return. Since I had done my return online Turbotax knew the answer to this question and filled it in automatically. I checked my old return just to make sure it was right (it was).
To pay your taxes you still have to mail in a check. You can pay by credit card, but they pass the credit card fee on to you so you don’t want to pick that option unless you have to finance your payment.
After I filed my return I went to the nearby postal service store to send a package to my dad. The folks behind the counter were rushing around like a fire alarm had gone off. Finally a guy came up to the counter and said that he was sorry but the tax filing deadline was making everything crazy. I thought that was strange. Don’t people just drop off their return to be mailed? What else is there for the employees to do except dump the mail into the proper bin?
He said that the chaos was caused by people wanting to send their tax return in by certified mail. Why would they want to do that, I asked? The guy straightened up as he assumed a more authoritarian bearing, and then explained the situation. “You see, if you send a certified letter then the letter becomes a ‘legal document.’ And the IRS has to sign for the letter. If they lose the return then you can show the signature card and have your lawyer tell them that it’s their fault.”
I didn’t say a word, other than to thank him for this valuable information. Inside, of course, I was laughing uncontrollably.