What to look for when you’re shopping for online help


It now takes more than 71,000 pages to cover and explain federal tax laws. So it’s not surprising the vast majority of taxpayers look for help preparing and filing their tax returns.

Use of online tax preparation and e-filing continues to grow at record rates. In fact, more than 32 million taxpayers e-filed their tax returns from home last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“Online tax prep can take a lot of the hassle out of doing your taxes,” says Gary Lund­berg, product management director for CompleteTax (CompleteTax.com), an online income tax preparation and e-filing service.

“But you want to make sure you use a program that best meets your needs.”

A recent independently conducted survey of about 1,000 taxpayers found that the most important factors to taxpayers in getting their taxes done are:

• Accuracy

• Safety and security

• Help and support

• Affordability

• Ease of use

• The best refund

According to Lundberg, questions you should look to answer when evaluating online tax programs are:

1. Does the program automatically check for accuracy?

Data entry errors and failing to enter key information, such as Social Security numbers, are some of the most common mistakes people make in preparing their taxes.

Make certain the program automatically checks for errors or oversights. The program should provide links to the problems to help you quickly correct potentially costly mistakes.

2. Is the site secure?

You want to use an online program that encrypts your data using recognized security standards. Only use e-file programs that have been tested and approved by the IRS. These will display the IRS e-file logo on their home page.

3. What are the help options?

Ideally, the program should be straightforward, allowing you to finish your tax returns on your own. But you will want comprehensive help should you run into a question you can’t answer.

So make sure the online tax program provides help resources on every page and offers support via e-mail or live online chat.

4. Does it clearly show the cost of preparing and filing your returns?

The cost for using the program should be displayed clearly on the first page so that you can make an informed choice. According to Lundberg, many first-time filers and other taxpayers with uncomplicated tax situations can take advantage of free versions offered by some online tax prep providers.

For example, CompleteTax’s Free version can be used to prepare and file 1040EZ and even certain simple 1040 tax returns.

Even if your taxes are more complicated, there is online software for basic federal income tax prep and e-file starting at under $20.

5. Is it easy to use?

Most online programs allow you to try them before you buy. You don’t have to go to a store, purchase the software, install it on your computer and hope you like it. Rather, you simply go to the online program’s Web site and start using it.

Before you purchase, you can make sure the online program you choose is easy to navigate and presents information clearly.

6. What features does it include to help maximize your refund?

Most taxpayers are concerned that they may be missing deductions or credits that could save them money. Look for an online tax program that offers tools to help you make the most of credits and deductions.

For example, this could include tools to help calculate the value of charitable deductions, such as clothing or household items.

“Part of getting your taxes done right is getting the biggest refund you deserve,” says Lundberg. “You need to pay taxes, but you want to use an online tax prep solution that’s helping make sure you’re not paying more than necessary.”

More information on online tax preparation and e-filing is available from CompleteTax at CompleteTax.com.

—ARAcontent


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