Monday, March 29, 1999

Isle taxpayers
taking advantage
of the Internet

Although state returns
can't be sent electronically,
forms, information and
federal filing are available

By Russ Lynch


Hawaii taxpayers are going electronic in droves, tapping federal and state tax Internet sites for information and forms and filing electronically when they can. In the process, they are saving the government -- and themselves -- money and getting refunds quicker, tax officials say.

It still isn't possible for individual taxpayers to file Hawaii state tax returns electronically, but they are using their computers extensively anyway, said June Yamamoto, chief of the taxpayer services branch.

The state sells a CD-ROM disk for $8, containing a huge amount of tax information, such as dozens of forms dating back several years, the tax laws themselves, tax opinions by the attorney general and much other helpful data, Yamamoto said.

The department has sold 1,400 copies of the updated version for the 1998 tax year.

There's an additional wrinkle -- the most common forms on the disk are configured so taxpayers can enter their own numbers on their computer screens and print out the result. It won't calculate columns, but it does make the whole job a lot easier.

The tax department's Web site, tax.html received 395,000 hits through January and February alone.

So far this year, 11,000 callers have phoned in to request tax forms by fax, an average of three pages per request, Yamamoto said.

"It's made a tremendous difference," she said. It's that many forms that don't have to be mailed out, consuming manpower and expenses.

So far, Hawaii taxpayers are ahead of last year in getting their returns in, she said, with about 196,000 short-form tax returns filed so far, compared with about 180,000 at this time last year.

At the federal level, the Internal Revenue Service is also experiencing a surge in computer use.

While she didn't have Internet numbers specifically for Hawaii, IRS regional communications specialist Shawn George in Seattle said the IRS Web site had more than 531 million "hits," or visits from taxpayers, in the period Jan. 1 through March 21.

That was a 155 percent increase over the same period last year when "The Digital Daily," as the IRS calls its Web site, had 208 million hits. This year's visits have already topped those for all of last year, a record 444 million hits.

IRS offering CD-ROM

The IRS also has a CD-ROM, for $13 a copy, that contains tax forms for the current and back years, instructions, publications, IRS bulletins and more.

Like the Hawaii CD-ROM, the IRS version also allows taxpayers to fill in forms on-screen, print out the completed forms and save copies for their own files.

The IRS has several ways for taxpayers to file electronically. For the simplest return, the 1040EZ, it can be done by a touch-tone telephone call. (For phone numbers, see accompanying box.)

You can do your own tax preparation on your computer, using IRS-accepted commercial tax preparation software and sending the results to the software provider who files the returns to the IRS in big batches.

The IRS calls it e-filing and spokeswoman George said that as of March 21, more than 73,000 returns for 1998 were filed that way, about a 20 percent increase from 61,000 at the same time last year.

Online filings increase

While the vast majority of e-files were done by professional tax practitioners -- about 55,800, an increase of nearly 20 percent from 44,800 last year -- online filings direct from Hawaii taxpayers were up 152 percent at more than 4,500 from about 1,800 at the same time last year.

Fewer people this year are using what the IRS calls TeleFile to file the simple forms by phone, at about 12,850 by March 21, a 10.6 percent decline from about 14,370 at the same time last year.

Traditional filings on paper were running at about 183,000 this year, George said, about the same as last year, so total filings from Hawaii with about three weeks to go to the deadline were about 256,000, up about 5 percent from about 244,000 at the same time last year.

Child tax credit available

George had these extra tips for taxpayers:

There's a child tax credit of up to $400 per child this year but many taxpayers don't know about it.

If the IRS workers can tell that you qualify, they're figuring it for you and they've done that for more than 30,000 taxpayers across the country.

But it's better and faster if you claim it yourself at the beginning.

A child born after 1981 may be eligible. Check column 4 of Line 6(c) in Form 1040 or 1040A and use the work sheet.

IRS offices in Honolulu, Hilo, Wailuku and Lihue are open Saturday mornings through April 10 to help walk-in taxpayers, in addition to their regular weekday hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Honolulu office in the Prince Kuhio Federal Building will stay open until midnight April 15.

The Hilo and Wailuku offices also plan some later hours during tax-deadline week.

Useful numbers
at tax time


Bullet Deadline: Thursday, April 15

Bullet Web site:

Bullet Telephone assistance: 1-800-829-1040

Bullet Forms and publications: 1-800-829-3676 (order now -- it can take 10 days to get them)

Bullet TaxFax: Call 1-703-368-9694 from your fax machine to get up to three forms or other items.

Bullet TeleTax Info: 1-800-829-4477 for recorded information on topics.

Bullet CD-ROM: Go through Internet to to order CD-ROM for $13 plus $5 handling fee or call 1-877-233-6767


Bullet Deadline: Tuesday, April 20

Bullet Web site:

Bullet Forms by Fax: Oahu call 587-7572, other islands call from your fax machine to 1-808-678-0522

Bullet Recorded tax topics: 587-1234 and press 7700

Bullet CD-ROM: Order from Taxpayer Services Branch CD-ROM, Department of Taxation, P.O. Box 259, Honolulu, HI 96809-0259. Enclose $8.

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