Online project provides free tax-filing service

Peter Frost

Students desperate for a quick return of their tax checks need only grab a keyboard and set aside 30 minutes to make it so.
The Quicken Tax Freedom Project is a new online service that allows people who make less than $20,000 gross income per year to file tax returns free.
The preparation and filing of the 1040EZ tax form, which 45 percent of Americans use annually, is free through the project.
Reporting taxes online has been around for more than five years, but this is the first time the service is available at no cost.
A user logs onto the system, answers a few questions, relays tax information in provided forms and then submits the information directly to the U.S. Department of Revenue through free Quicken software.
And instead of waiting six to eight weeks for returns with the traditional filing method, the checks come within two weeks.
Users can expect to save time as well.
In a half-hour, filers complete the form and send it immediately, whereas the paperwork version can take up to three hours to complete.
The federal government and the Minnesota Department of Revenue are in full support of the more efficient tax-filing method.
“It creates a big win for taxpayers,” said Skip Carlson, a Minnesota Department of Revenue spokesman. “It’s much more efficient, it eliminates the chance of committing an error, it saves up to two hours of your time and you get your money back faster.”
The new service is based on Quicken’s Turbotax, which 20 percent of American taxpayers used last year to report their annual earnings.
Turbotax is an online tax service in which users are charged $9.95 per year to submit tax-related forms electronically.
The Internet-based program all but eliminates errors.
If all necessary fields aren’t filled in, the form will not be sent. Instead, a message will pop up on the screen instructing the user to fill in the missing portions.
“The Web site really takes you step-by-step through the whole process,” said Ryan Bowling, spokesman for Intuit, the company that owns Quicken.
“Whereas it’s common to see errors in the paper form, here you can’t even submit it unless everything is filled in,” Bowling said.
The program also queries users. It will ask questions related to determining what forms the taxpayer needs to fill out.
For instance, it might ask: “Are you in college?” or “Do you have any student loans?” Quicken then processes this information and produces forms individualized for the user.
The system makes sure students fill out all the forms they are entitled to, Bowling said.
“The program shows you ways you could get more money back that you didn’t even know of,” he said.
College of Liberal Arts sophomore Crissy Eid said she plans on using the system.
“I never really thought aboutfiling before because my parents have always done it, but I want to make it as easy as possible,” Eid said. “Plus, I want to get my refund back earlier.”
If students file online before March 3, they will receive their tax returns before leaving on expensive spring-break trips.
Not only does online filing save money for students, it makes government processes more efficient as well.
“We have a hard enough time trying to find people to work in a labor market that’s shrinking,” Carlson said. “If more people file online, we can eliminate some of the costs. We have just to open letters and enter the data. It’s a huge difference.”
Taxes can be filed for free at www.quicken.com/freedom.
The deadline to file for tax returns is April 17.

Peter Frost covers business and welcomes comments to [email protected]