TAXi delivers teen-friendly tax info

The Internal Revenue Service and the American Bar Association this summer unveiled a World Wide Web site to help novice taxpayers learn about the tax system and understand their financial obligations as members of the work force.

The IRS describes TAXinteractive (TAXi), at www.irs.gov/taxi, as an electronic learning laboratory. The site provides tax scenarios, tips on electronic filing, a toolkit for schoolteachers and a directory of tax terms in an easy-to-read, teen-friendly format. The goal, according to the IRS, is to teach new taxpayers about the IRS in terms they can understand.

TAXi's home page, colorful with bright graphics, offers visitors various "destinations" that explain how the tax system works and where the money goes.

For example, if you click on It's Payday, the site explains how and why tax money is deducted from paychecks, using stories about "Music Girl,'' who asks, "Hey, where's my money?" And the site explains how tips are taxed through the story of "Pizza Dude," who also learns how taxes help pay for services such as streets, hospitals, judges, parks and police.

Another topic is e-file, which discusses the IRS' program for enabling workers to file their taxes electronically. To explain how e-file works, the category uses two characters, James and Kim, who waited until the last minute to file their taxes but were able to meet the April 15 deadline thanks to electronic filing. Another story tells the tale of a taxpayer who sought the help of a tax professional to file her taxes electronically because she wanted her refund check quickly.

"We want teens to start thinking about electronic filing,'' said Mike Moore, the Web application developer for the IRS. "It's fast, efficient, cheap and accurate.''

Finally, there is the What Is Fair? category, which tells the story of a private investigator who is hired by a queen to find out how to tax her country fairly.

A list of tax terms, for example, includes definitions for words such as adjusted gross income, exempt, Federal Insurance Contributions Act, regressive tax, Medi-care and tax form 1040EZ.

The home page also offers links to basic information about TAXi and a glossary of tax terms as well as a teachers' toolkit to help educators teach students about taxes.

The move to inform young workers about the Web site is evolving. The American Bar Association is organizing a campaign to get the word out to the target market of middle and high school students. IRS officials said they have already visited classrooms.

Christine Brunswick, director of the bar association's Section of Taxation, said her group is organizing a team of speakers to visit schools and talk to students about the federal tax system.

Brunswick said this is the first time children have been targeted to receive the financial foundation they will need before they land that first job. "They really aren't taught this in school,'' Brunswick said. "[Bar association] members will lead a school campaign to talk to kids about the Web site and the need to pay taxes.''

The site welcomes comments on existing content and future enhancements.

Scholastic Inc., an organization that works closely with students, developed the editorial content for TAXi. Vector Research Inc. and Boxtop International helped develop the site.

"TAXi will help improve tax literacy among our young people,'' said Phillip Mann, chairman of the Section of Taxation. "It will help them in many situations— [daily] activities, planning to buy a car, filing taxes electronically and even figuring out how much money they can expect to take home from a summer job.''

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