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Well America, it's that time of year again. Across the land hard working Americans are receiving their W2 wage sheets and other doo-dads detailing what exactly they made in 2003. Accountant bureaus start prepping their calculator jockeys for preparations for the harried men and women looking to make sense of various tax forms. And some of us, lured by the promise of refunds in under 2 weeks time, turn to e-filing. It is a goal for the federal government to have all of us, or at least as many of us as feasibly possible, to file our returns online, either ourselves or through H & R Block. Electronically filing means having to have fewer people at IRS headquarters go through each form looking for transposed digits or arithmetic errors.

Of course, for the truly cheap, that enthusiasm for electronic filing dies in a sad whimper when we discover that it costs up to $30 to file returns. Returns aren't filed through the IRS, but through other several other business, all of whom ask for you to have your credit card ready. Now, the IRS offsets this by having some companies offer an opportunity to file returns for free. This is a good idea all, but for the continuing shifting qualifications and companies offering free filing.

Looking at how my father tried to e-file over three years. For 2001, his first foray into electronically filing, Tax Slayer offered free-file for people who lived in the terror attack disaster areas. (Tax Slayer was disliked the most by him, for it required him to download a clunky program to fill out the return, which was sumarily rejected by the IRS. In converting a year entered in Slayer to fit in space on the form, it chose the wrong two digits to truncate. Unfortunately, since the data was saved in a format only readable to Tax Slayer, fixing this mistake required me to print out the page with the mistake, go to my computer and scan in the document, alter the number using CorelDRAW, print out the new page, and send the form out by mail three days after deadline. Fortunately, there was no penalty for this mistake by Tax Slayer and its software. Unfortunately, we have to keep this a copy of this program if we ever need a copy of 2001's form, also remembering to change the problem date.) In 2002, not completely unexpectedly, Tax Slayer no longer offered the WTC/Pentagon discount. For that year, father chose TaxBrain, for they offered discounts to those over age 50. He had no complaints for that one. It filed with no problems. Unfortunately, for this year they offer no free filing services. For this year, he's looking to see if he qualifies for any free filing services. The problem is the qualifications seem to be devised at random by each of the participating services. Most seem to use an income cap, which makes a lot of sense since low income people would be the most price sensitive. Of course, low income people are least likely to have internet access at home. (Who'd bring their tax forms and W2s to the library or an internet cafe or kiosk?) However a few other give services to people in a certain age range or who live in states where John Kerry is leading George W Bush in the polls. Unfortunately, all of this uncertainty keeps e-filing from becoming a habit rather than a hassle.