It's March and you still haven't filed your taxes? Shame on you. There are lots of things worse than filling out your tax forms. I just can't think of any. But help from the World Wide Web can make things a little easier.
The first stop on any tax trip through cyberspace must be the Internal Revenue Service (http://www.irs.ustreas.gov). Congressional testimony notwithstanding, the IRS Web site is a cut above what you might expect from a government site.
The site, dubbed the Digital Daily, is designed to look like a newspaper, at least in the opening screens. There are plenty of links--all well-organized--to various parts of the site, but the one you're likely to want this time of year is Forms and Publications.
Here you'll find tax forms (and instructions) dating back to 1992, as well as various IRS publications.
I hope you'll never have to track down forms to file your tax returns from six years ago, but I'm sure many people have found this handy. Be warned, though: The forms and other documents are in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. That means you need the Acrobat Reader (available free at http://www.adobe.com) to view and print them.
Even with all the information that's packed into this site, there's still a chance you won't find what you need. Another nice feature--and one that might surprise you--is the ability to submit a question to the IRS and have it answered by a live person via e-mail.
To do this, just follow the Comments and Help link. Although the IRS won't answer specific questions about your particular situation, it will provide answers to general questions about the Tax Code and IRS procedures. My question was answered in four days.
Tired of filling out returns by hand but not sure if you want to switch to tax-preparation software? Your best bet is to take Intuit's TurboTax program for a test drive. Fully functional versions of both TurboTax and TurboTax for Business are available from Intuit's Web site (http://www.intuit.com/turbotax/trial/trial.htm).
The only thing these trial versions don't let you do is view and print the completed forms. But that doesn't mean your work has gone to waste.
Just call a toll-free number with your credit card information and an operator will provide you with a secret code to unlock those features, converting your trial version to the real thing in a matter of seconds. The trial software is available in Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 versions. Unfortunately, Intuit doesn't offer a free demo of its MacInTax software.
Suppose you don't even want to mess with downloading software and running a new application. Intuit still has you covered with TurboTax Online (http://www.intuit.com/turbotax/ttonline/qcomhi.html).
Here you can complete your entire federal return online and file it electronically for $9.95. If you're a California resident, you can do your state return for an additional $4.95. Even though this is a Web-based interface, TurboTax Online requires Windows 95. Sorry, Mac and Windows 3.1 users.
If you're a licensed tax preparer and are looking to automate, you may want to check out the Web site for 1099 Pro (http://www.1099pro.com). As with TurboTax, you can download a demo version from the Web site.
If you like what you see, you can get the "unlock code" online by supplying your credit card information. The cost for this Windows-based software is $199.95.
There are plenty of helpful tax sites on the Web, but one of my favorites is the Tax Prophet (http://www.taxprophet.com). The Tax Prophet (apparently the alter ego of attorney Robert L. Sommers) is a Merlin-esque fellow who helps answer tax questions.
There's great stuff on this site, from a class in estate planning to dozens of frequently asked questions (taken from Sommers' column in the San Francisco Examiner) to numerous publications in HTML, Word and PDF formats. There's also an extensive list of links, broken down by topic and each briefly described. If you can't find what you're looking for, the site offers its own search engine.
Don't feel bad if you haven't yet filed your taxes. Maybe you're better off waiting. After all, now you know about these Web sites that can make filing faster and easier. So good luck, and many happy returns (pun intended).
Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk-radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org