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INCOME TAXES E-filing returns eases final tax crunch



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This year use of computers and e-file for tax returns was up more than 7 percent, the IRS said.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Harvey Christiansen stood in the aisle of the Boardman Wal-Mart at 7:45 Friday morning, reading the instructions on the side of a Turbo Tax box.

Christiansen was one of the millions nationwide who had waited until the last minute to do his taxes and was ready to go high tech to get the job done.

"I just moved up here, and with the change of address I've had a devil of a time getting all my paperwork together," Christiansen said. "I got my last W-2 Wednesday, and I've got to get it done. I hate reading those instructions, but it says here with this, it walks you through it."

Four hours later Christiansen called to report that he had been successful and that a check of $297 would be deposited into his account in about seven days.

"I'll never do it by hand again," Christiansen said. "This is too easy."

E-filing

Nationwide the number of people using the computer and e-file for tax returns was up more than 7 percent, according to the IRS. That could be part of the reason why the crowds at the downtown Youngstown Post Office were smaller than in the past.

"It was steady, but not like some years," said Priscilla Colbert, lobby coordinator at the post office. She spent most of her day helping people get their return into the right box, reassuring them that they would be postmarked the right day.

Still the facility had plans to be open until midnight with volunteers on hand to help with questions.

Some like Michelle Lightner waited until Friday because she had to write a check. She tried doing her own taxes by computer for the first time, then had second thoughts.

"I actually did my taxes on Turbo Tax last week, and then I said, 'what if I didn't do something right?'" Lightner said. "So I went to H & amp;R Block. It turned out the exact same way when they did it. It cost me $168, but at least I know that everything is done right, so I don't mind. Next year, I'll just do it myself."

Lightner was at the post office in Youngstown at 2:30 p.m., putting a stamp on the envelope and placing it in the slot.

"I only waited because I had to pay," Lightner said. "If I was getting money back, I would have had them early, you can count on that."

Lightner isn't alone.

Bill McNeff, a district manager with H & amp;R Block, spent part of his long day at the Austintown location at 5423 Mahoning Ave.

The parking lot was full, and there were 26 seats in the waiting room waiting for the crunch of last-minute filers. Seven tax professionals were busy helping customers, while two women with great patience and calming voices handled the phones.

"We're busy today, but really our busiest time is the last week of January and the first week of February," McNeff said. "That's when the people who are getting money back have their W-2s and they come in, ready to get that return. Our numbers show that 75 percent of the people do get a check, so that's when the majority of the people come in. It's just that today, there is an absolute deadline, so we stay until that last customer is served. All we have to do is push the button on an electronic return before midnight."

While tax preparers do hundreds of returns on the final day, it's more a time of questions. In a 10-minute period Friday, calls about extensions, penalties and even a complex question on how to count bartering as income were fielded. McNeff said they call because they can talk to a live person there.

"If you call the IRS you get into that phone loop of recorded information, and it's tough to get an answer," McNeff said. "Some of the questions are easy, but sometimes they call and then they know that it's something they may need a professionals help with. That's why we are here."




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