Online tax filing: Why bother?

So far, the combination of TurboTax and the Internet doesn't seem to have made electronic filing a very appealing choice.

Published April 15, 1999 7:00PM (EDT)

It's hard to imagine that the Internal Revenue Service will meet its goal of getting 80 percent of returns delivered electronically within eight years, without coming up with some better incentives.

These days the best it can do to convince us is to promise fewer errors and a faster refund to electronic filers -- if you're one of the lucky few who is expecting a check. But if you owe money, the only reason to try to squeeze your data down the pipe is that you've been overwhelmed by a benevolent urge to make things easier on the IRS, or you're looking for some kind of nerdy bragging rights.

For a brief moment, while preparing my return with Intuit's TurboTax, I thought I could file and pay my taxes simultaneously with a credit card. So, I decided to file electronically, figuring that the silver lining in my fat tax bill would be the frequent-flier miles I'd earn while placating Uncle Sam. Unfortunately, though, you can't put the taxes you owe on your credit-card tab via Intuit -- the only card-charging associated with my e-filing was a $15 fee to transmit both state and federal returns (a good $10 more than the post office would charge).

I wish I could say the time savings of electronic filing justified the expense. But I started the e-filing process about 36 hours ago, at 8 a.m. on April 13, and at this writing I'm not done yet. I couldn't actually file that morning because Intuit took its system down to perform "maintenance and backup procedures." When I tried again after work, at 8 p.m., I got an error message blaming the system's inability to accept my returns on "unusually heavy demand" and suggesting that I would have better luck between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Within an hour, I transmitted my filings -- but Intuit responded with an error message saying that it couldn't confirm that it had received them, thanks to "Internet transmission problems beyond our control." Eventually, I was able to confirm that Intuit had my documents.

Wednesday morning, though, I was still getting a message that I must wait another 24-48 hours to get confirmation that the IRS has received my filing from Intuit. Only then, on April 15 or maybe even later, will I get to -- wait, is this right? -- mail some special e-filing form to the IRS with my check.

By Kaitlin Quistgaard

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

MORE FROM Kaitlin Quistgaard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------