Check out our bi-weekly Net perspective. Our goal is to make these columns useful for our readers whether they be novice or pro, while still offering a fun to read column. Feel free to let us know what Internet resources you find useful in your personal, educational, or business life - it might just end up in one of our columns!
Tax time is upon us again. If you are one of the few who plan ahead you are already enjoying that refund check from Uncle Sam. Then again, we bet there are a few people like us who have not even started doing their taxes yet. Sure, it is two weeks away, but we have plenty of time - right? In any case, this year we are going to use the Internet to help us fill out those pesky tax forms.
The first place we can think of to start is the IRS - who else do you think of when someone mentions taxes? The Internal Revenue Service's home on the World Wide Web, "The Digital Daily" (www.irs.ustreas.gov/plain/), does not have tips and tricks to saving you money. But it does offer the latest in forms and instructions for filling out your 1996 Federal Income Tax forms. The web site is "part of (the IRS') continuing efforts to provide broad and immediate access to IRS tax information and services." Conveniently Internet traffic is routed to the text only version of the site at this time of year because of the high volume of users - gee, we wonder why? There is a graphics version available if you prefer but be warned, it is slow when accessing via a 28.8 kbs modem or slower.
Forms and Publications are best found through the text only version of the IRS' site. The most frequently selected tax forms, instructions, and publications are available at one location (www.irs.ustreas.gov/plain/forms_pubs/top-forms.html). Conveniently you can download forms, instructions or a combination of both. Five formats are available for downloading: PCL (Hewlett Packard Printer Control Language); PDF (Adobe PDF format); PS (PostScript); PS17 (PostScript 17); SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) for publications only. In addition the IRS' "Digital Daily" offers other information such as statistics, ways you can file on-line (but only if you qualify), and several other features.
If the IRS' site seems a little slow, try the Department of the Treasury at (www.kiosk.net/irs/taxforms.html). The forms on this server are replicas of the official IRS forms. Most can be printed, filled out, and filed with the IRS. While this site seemed to offer faster access, there isn't much on-line information available so make sure you know which forms you're looking for ahead of time.
So, you may be wondering what role taxes play in society. Take a look at the Tax Foundation (www.taxfoundation.org). We found some interesting information about the role that taxes play in our society. For example, how much does the typical family currently pay in taxes? And what would tax reform mean to that typical American family? How long do you have to work this year just to pay your total tax bill? Tax freedom day in 1996 was May 6 - of course that was for an average American not living in New York state.
Ideally, we would like to do our taxes on-line to save time and postage. Tax Prep (www.taxprep1.com) advertises a completely free service. They claim to offer, for a limited time, a service that will allow you to submit your taxes on-line. Tax Prep will send you a completed 1040 or 1040EZ Tax Form through the mail. What is the catch? According to Tax Prep, "There is none." An associate of ours worked through the form and found the process easy. And if you want to stop working on your on-line tax form you can save it and return to it later.
For more information on electronic filing and why you might want to do this take a look at the Electronic Filing Service, Inc.(www.efs.com). This site will provide you with reasons to file electronically and let you know how fast you might expect your refund.
More important than just getting the forms, most of us need help in filling them out. Check out US Tax (www.ustax.com). Your IRS problems may be ended for good.. The CPA's and ex-IRS agents at US TAX have created a site to listen to your IRS problems, suggest solutions and hopefully provide services to end all of your IRS problems. Another Internet resource is Net Tax (www.nettax.com), a free on-line U.S. tax calculation program and 1040 preparation aid on the Web.
Of course filling out Federal tax forms is only have the battle. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (www.tax.state.ny.us/) has most state tax forms and instructions available for downloading and printing. To download these New York State forms, you need an installed copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software application, there is a link from the site to get it. You may be able to download the files without it but to view and print the files you will need the reader. Beware though: this site proved to be slow. The common IT-200 form took a few minutes (400K file) while during the instructions (2.3MB) we were able to go out and get lunch!
Locally, you can check out the Freed Maxick Sachs & Murphy, P.C. Internet site at (www.fmsmpc.com). This site is mainly geared for Canadian businesses and professionals doing business in the United States. So if you're right over the border, here's a quick way to get your answers and download your forms.