IRS pushes e-filing hard

Tax officials have been issuing almost weekly updates on the numbers of people filing electronic returns this tax season.

With the April 15 tax filing deadline approaching, Internal Revenue Service officials have been issuing almost weekly updates on the numbers of taxpayers filing their returns electronically this tax season.

In his testimony before Congress on April 7, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson reported that 48.5 million returns have been filed electronically so far, a 12 percent increase compared with the same period a year ago. The number gave Everson the opportunity to say to lawmakers critical of the agency's slow progress on systems modernization, "It's not all bad news."

Everson reported even sharper increases in free electronic filing. The number of moderate and low income taxpayers using the IRS' Free File program is up 23 percent compared the same period a year ago, when about 2.1 million taxpayers had used the free service, Everson said. Free File lets citizens who qualify for the program file their tax returns online from a home computer.

At last count, taxpayers had made more than 10 million visits to the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, to obtain tax forms and information. That doubles the number of visits compared to a year ago, according to tax officials. When the current tax season closes, the IRS plans to upgrade the search engine on the Web site, making it easier to find information, a tax official said.

Taxpayers can now go online to get their tax questions answered through e-mail by IRS officials, check the status of their tax refunds and file their state returns with their federal returns. In 2005, Everson said, the tax agency will expand the variety of forms that taxpayers can file electronically to include Forms 1065, 990T and 1041 for reporting income from business partnerships, tax-exempt organizations, and estates and trusts.

In her April 7 congressional testimony, Pamela Gardiner, the Treasury Department's acting inspector general for tax administration, took a moment to compliment the IRS. "The improvements in the levels of service the IRS has provided to taxpayers are impressive," she said.

The IRS employs 100,000 people. Each year, the agency processes more than 200 million tax returns and collects more than $1.7 trillion dollars.

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