IRS Begs, Bribes Taxpayers to E-File

The IRS really wants you to file online. Or on the phone. Whatever. Just stop sending them all that paper, okay?

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers announced a plan to give taxpayers a $10 credit for filing electronically. Those using the phone system Telefile would get a $5 credit. The Wall Street Journal made the plan sound altruistic: "The proposal is only the latest in a series of steps the Clinton Administration has taken in recent years to make the IRS more efficient and customer-friendly." CNET's Troy Wolverton agreed that the IRS considers online filing more efficient, but reminded us that two popular tax sites had outage troubles last April.

TheStreet.com, with a nod to the IRS goal of getting 33.6 million taxpayers to file online in April, covered electronic tax "freebies." TurboTax? Free for Fidelity, Vanguard, and E-Trade account-holders. H.D. Vest Financial Services now offers free e-filing. Kiplinger's Tax Cut still costs $9.95 for a federal return, but add in the $10 from Uncle Sam and it comes out even.

To make sure everything runs smoothly - or at least, as smoothly as it can around tax time - the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has established a "CPA WebTrust" seal of approval for qualifying sites. The IRS will also publish a list of tested and approved sites. That might put some minds at ease, but considering how many people still won't deposit paychecks in an ATM, it will probably take more than free software and $10 to get paper-loving Americans to trust the Net with their taxes.

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