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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

AKAMAI MONEY
Electronic tax filing costs some people extra

By Greg Wiles
Advertiser Columnist

Q. I prepared my income tax return using TurboTax but see where I have to pay a fee to file it electronically through the company. Is there a way I can file it by e-mail or some other means without having to pay the extra money?

B. Lockhart, Hawai'i Kai

A. It appears you are out of luck. There may be a cumbersome way to get around this, but only if you're adjusted gross income is $50,000 or less and you don't mind typing in the information again.

"Generally, if you buy a software product to prepare your taxes, you must use their system to e-file," said IRS spokeswoman Judy Monahan. There is no IRS system for filing by e-mail.

Last year, about 35 percent of the 591,070 individual federal income tax returns from Hawai'i were filed online. About 54,000 of these were sent by folks using software programs.

TurboTax, the most popular tax program, this year eliminated rebates for its desktop computer offering, including those for electronic filing. (The filing is free if you purchase the online version).

Most users probably were presented with an option of paying $14.95 to zap the file off to the IRS. It'll cost you another $14.95 for your state return.

That means using TurboTax's Deluxe package and its electronic filing service will be around $70: the software's retail price of $40 plus $30 for transmitting the returns to tax authorities. TurboTax spokesman Scott Gulbransen said the rebates were eliminated because most people didn't use them or complained about having to fill out the forms.

The fees have some TurboTax users printing out returns and buying stamps instead of using electronic filing. Just don't expect to get refunds as quickly if you choose to snail-mail in your return.

If you filed your return electronically today, you could expect a refund a week from tomorrow, assuming you request direct deposit and have an error-free return.

For people who haven't purchased TurboTax yet and are concerned about the filing fee, you can consider H&R Block's TaxCut program, the second- most-popular off-the-shelf software. It has a rebate for the $15.95 electronic filing fee for the IRS. There is no rebate for transmitting state returns.

If you have adjusted gross income under $50,000, you can go to the IRS site and look for the "Free File" pages. There you'll see a list of 20 tax software companies participating in free online tax preparation and e-filing. TurboTax is one of the companies participating in the program.

But if you choose to do this, you'll have to input your tax information again.

Hawai'i also has a site taxpayers can use to fill out state forms and have them transmitted electronically.

Q. I'm 91 years old and have been using the 1040 short form for my taxes. Last year, I had pension and Social Security payments of $50,000. I also cashed in a $135,000 bond and split $90,000 of this between my two sons. Can I still use a short form?

A. The IRS offers two so-called short forms, the 1040EZ and the 1040A. You definitely aren't eligible to file the 1040EZ rules state you can't use it if you are older than 65.

People with taxable income of more than $100,000 are prohibited from using the 1040A forms. If the bond's proceeds weren't subject to tax, such as those from Hawai'i general obligation bonds, you may still be able to use it.

You might inquire about which form is right for you by checking with the AARP Foundation's free Tax-Aide service. It helps low- to moderate-income taxpayers with returns, with an emphasis being placed on the elderly. It is offered at 24 sites on O'ahu and 22 on the Neighbor Islands.

To find a site, dial 523-4545 on O'ahu or call the Aloha United Way toll free at (877) 275-6569, and ask for Tax Aide sites for the Neighbor Islands.

Do you have a question about personal finance, taxes or other money matters? Reach Akamai Money columnist Greg Wiles at 525-8088 or gwiles@honoluluadvertiser.com