It’s understandable: You put it off as long as possible, dread it all year, and when it’s finally time to confront it, you just want to get it over with as soon as possible. Taxes are the worst, but that doesn’t mean you can’t file them. Sure, you could pay for a personal accountant that will charge you an arm and a leg for your time, or shell out for this year’s edition of tax software – or, you could do them online. The benefits? You save some trees, you save some time, and oh yeah – you get your refund directly deposited in 10 days (versus the typical six weeks via paper filing).
Of course, that means you need to be even more wary of scam artists trying to get a grip on your info or just those trying to riddle your computer with spyware. Here are a few things to look out for.
#1. E-mail e-vites. If you get an e-mail from any person, company, or application offering to do you taxes, it’s very possible this is a scam. Even if some of the invitations sound legit, just play it safe and take a look at the some of the options listed below instead.
#2. Avoid viruses. Seems obvious, we know, but be sure you’ve got a firewall, anti-spyware and anti-virus software up and running on the system you use to file online. If you pirate a lot of music or movies, you know how easy it is to grab spyware with your downloads – so if it’s possible, file your taxes on a different computer.
#3. Clean up. Once you’re done, be sure to get all of your confidential information off the computer. Burn it onto a CD or save it to an SD card, whatever – just get it, and permanently delete it.
#4. Ask for help. You don’t need a fancy, suit-wearing accountant who charges by the hour to help you with your taxes – the IRS will do it for free. And you don’t have to get dressed up to visit an office. The official website of the IRS includes a very thorough FAQ section specifically answering questions about filing online. Make use of it in any confusion.
Here’s a few, reputable e-filing sites to peruse that all have free options. Keep in mind you’re adjusted gross income must be $57,000 or less to use the free options for most of them and some software is only available in certain states.
Not everyone likes the IRS, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from government entity come tax time. Its website is one of the best places to go for tax laws, tips, forms, calculators and any questions you may have about your finances or legal obligations. The government site also features contact information for local tax offices and will recommend various tax software based on your current finances. It’s fairly cut and dry, but the information is all there.
TurboTax stands its ground as the premiere site for filing your taxes online. It’s a great option for both personal and small businesses, and you can even file your federal taxes for free using its IRS e-file system (state will cost you). The free edition contains many major forms, from the W-2 to the 1040EZ, but offers little in the way of guidance or direction if you feel completely overwhelmed. The more advanced packages come bundled with step-by-step instructions and handle more advanced deductions like home mortgages, but will cost you anywhere between $30 and $150 depending on what you plan to do with them.
H&R Block is another solid alternative for e-filing your taxes online, but it doesn’t offer as in-depth help as some of it online competitors. Like TurboTax, the free edition also offers a vast array of forms and schedules such as the 1040 form and schedules A, B, C, H and R. The software becomes more comprehensive and effective the higher up you go in price, bringing in step-by-step instructions and expanding the schedule lineup, but the site can prove cumbersome due to poor navigation tools. However, it’s still one of the most popular accounting companies for good reason and offers a wide selection of packages for both personal and business use.
CompleteTax is a highly reputable choice for e-filing your tax returns. The software, created by the good folks over at Commerce Clearing House, features some of the most useful guidance of all the online tax filing options currently available. The free version easily handles simple returns and processes some of the most common forms, but you will hav to pay a little extra (around $20 or $40) to access some of the more advanced tools such as itemized deductions and self-employment. Although the site and built-in navigation are not top-notch, the expanse and thorough examination of all aspects of the tax process is.
TaxACT’s best selling point is its price. It’s a bit more barebones than some of the more popular competitors, but both the free and paid editions offer almost the same set of features including your standard forms and schedules. Opting for the premium versions will grant you access to more features—such as tax data from prior years and extra reports—but the free federal edition is still worthwhile. TaxACT also allows you to file your tax return out sequence, which is rather nice if you want to skip a particular section and come back to it later.
TaxSlayer is another option, but it’s pretty limited in its capabilities and scope. The free edition only includes the 1040EZ and lacks any sort of comprehensive guidance and help. Although the premium editions are affordable and offer a wider selection of forms and schedules, they too are in dire need of a more inclusive walkthrough for some of the more complex operations and tasks you’re likely to face while filling out your taxes for business. The site sports an attractive interace, but navigation can also be a pain.
Have another suggestion or tip for e-filing your taxes online? Which software is helping you through this stressful time of year? Let us know in the comments below.