Winter is here and the tax season is upon us. Meeting the April 15th deadline is less of a challenge now, thanks to electronic filing and more forms and information available on the Web. So, even the Boston blizzards shouldn’t prevent you from getting started on those taxes! Here are some resources to help you file faster and smarter.
Most filing forms and instructions are available on the Web in PDF format, and can be downloaded and printed on a standard printer. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) site (//www.irs.gov/) is “forms central”, and a good source for the less common ones such as “Certain Gambling Winnings” (W-2G) and “U.S. Departing Alien Income Tax Return” (1040C).
For typical forms like 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ, try such web sites as 1040.com (//www.1040.com/) or TaxWorld (//www.taxworld.org/). These sites contain forms back to 1994, too; so if you are filing late due to an extension, or amending a filing for a previous year, you’ll have good resources.
Sometime in early February, Baker Library will have commonly used forms onsite at Kresge, across from the main desk. An IRS binder containing all reproducible 2004 forms and instructions, for both individuals and businesses, will be on reserve at the main library desk as well.
For those not inclined toward pen and paper, you can file your federal taxes electronically using IRS e-file. Some of you may be even eligible for free electronic tax preparation and filing through an IRS partnership with the Free File Alliance. While electronic filing usually involves downloading or purchasing approved software, returns usually arrive faster than with paper filing. And, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow you to simultaneously file your state returns with your federal. For more information on e-file and Free File, go to //www.irs.gov/efile/index.html.
If you are an international student, the Harvard International Office has a tax help program available to you that’s tailored to the needs of non-residents. Check the International Students Programs/Services section on myHBS for more details.
For the latest update on the tax code, TaxCut.com does a nice job summarizing some of the 2004 law changes, which include tax breaks for hybrid vehicles and an increase in the tuition and fees deduction (//www.taxcut.com/taxtips/tax_changes/xfnew04.html ). For the official version, see IRS publication 553 (//www.irs.gov/publications/p553/index.html), which includes both 2003 and 2004 changes. A note to those who donated to or plan charitable donations to tsunami relief efforts: contributions made through January 31, 2005 are deductible on your 2004 return, thanks to a new law enacted on January 7th.
For those who didn’t live or work in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Washington, or Wyoming, you’ll be filing returns with at least one state. A good source of general state tax information is the Tax and Accounting Site Directory (www.taxsites.com), with links to the Departments of Revenue (DOR) and tax forms for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Non-US tax information can also be found here. Most state tax sites have search features to help you locate the more obscure sorts of forms should you need them. Many DORs also have telephone help lines or FAQs (Frequently-Asked-Questions) posted on the web sites to help explain the more common problems that taxpayers may encounter.
Other Tax Tips, Help and General Information
The Web is loaded with commercial, government, and other sites providing tax information. A cautionary note to Googlers: accounting firms and companies that produce tax-filing software often produce tax help sites. Such information is often meant to be a “teaser” to induce you to hire or buy from them. Legal disclaimers notwithstanding, the sites can still be a good place to start for basic questions. To minimize your search time, I’ve listed a few below. You can also find these links (and more) on the Tax Forms page of the Baker Library web site (//www.library.hbs.edu/taxforms.html).
Taxsites.com Tax and Accounting Sites Directory (www.taxsites.com): If you’re a tax junkie whose interest in tax and tax theory goes beyond that of simply paying what you owe on time, you’ll love this meta-site. Besides the obligatory links to federal and state personal income tax information, this site includes information on corporate and business tax, international tax, accounting, policy and statistics.
TaxCut.com (taxcut.com): Provides lists of typical ways to cut your tax bill, as well as tax tips and 2004 law changes. An H&R Block product.
H&R Block Refund Calculator (//www.taxcut.com/calculators05/index.html): A quick and dirty way to estimate what you’ll be getting back – or will need to pay.
IRS Tax FAQ (//www.irs.gov/faqs/index.html): These questions and answers can help you wade through the federal tax jungle.
In addition to these sources, most standard federal and state tax forms and instruction booklets should be available at your local post office and at your local public library.
Baker Library also has the 2005 edition of J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax in the Reference section of the Reading Room (Call number HJ4652 .J2). This handbook includes strategies and explanations for many of the finer points of filing.
Doing taxes may not exactly be fun, but there are plenty of good resources to help get you through.