Testing the IRS

For the second straight year, Federal Computer Week staff members volunteered to test the Internal Revenue Service by filing their tax returns in various ways, including e-filing. We compared the results with our test results from 2000 and found an improvement in how quickly refunds were received when returns were filed electronically. Last year, one staff member received his refund 24 days after e-filing. This year, refunds arrived in less than half that time.

Here are this year's results:

One volunteer who filed electronically prepared her own return on the Turbo Tax Web site. The service was free as a result of her participation in a 401(k) retirement plan. She filed the return Feb. 2, and her refund check was deposited electronically in her checking account 13 days later. She was able to select her own personal identification number and used it without a hitch. Another employee had a professional at H&R Block prepare his tax return, a service that cost him $80. His return was filed electronically on Feb. 5, and his refund was deposited in his checking account 10 days later. He did not use a PIN for verification; his signature was mailed to the IRS. Three employees completed paper tax returns and filed them the old-fashioned way—by mail. One was pleased to discover that although she filed in February, she could designate the date for the IRS to debit her checking account electronically for the money she owed. Another who mailed his return Feb. 20 had not received his refund as of March 21. The third staff member who mailed his return originally tried to use the TeleFile system to file his Form 1040EZ by telephone, as he did last year, but was unable to because he had changed his residence. The IRS sent his PIN to his old address and it could not be forwarded. The agency said it had no way to get him another PIN— another reason the telephone filing system may be on its way out. He mailed his return Feb. 26 and had not received a refund as of March 21.

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