Apr 042005
Authors: Lila Hickey

With increasingly easy software appearing on the Internet, more and more students may find do-it-yourself taxes an attractive option.

Daniel Walter is brave; he files his own taxes. But with programs that have sprung up in recent years such as TaxAct, which offers online forms and e-filing, and TurboTax, which sells an annual software package, filing taxes has become less of a chore.

"When I was in practice, we didn't have that," said retired certified public accountant Jerome Ginsberg. "If you follow the instructions, it almost gives you all the answers."

For many students, including Walter, a sophomore majoring in landscape horticulture, the simplistic financial situation that typifies college life makes tax filing a simple process.

"It's pretty straightforward," Walter said. "It's basically just adding and subtracting lines. When they know what form they need, any college student can do it."

Filing is going just fine for Walter, who has been filing his own returns for three years, but for students looking for a more gradual introduction to understanding taxes, guiding programs can be steppingstones.

As far as Ginsberg is concerned, the online filing systems are a great thing for college students – and their parents, too. For anyone with one job and a simple financial situation, tax software is an efficient alternative to hiring a CPA.

Most accountants' business comes from large companies, he said, that need someone to review their entire financial system. For accountants, filing a relatively simple individual tax return is a breath of fresh air.

"(CPAs) love to have people bring them their tax return to do," Ginsberg said with a laugh.

While CPAs may appreciate easy filing jobs, the price for clients is increasing, as accountants' insurance rates rise and the extra costs are passed on to the customers. While he was in practice, Ginsberg said, insurance might have cost him $500 per year. Now, he said, it is literally thousands of dollars.

Stephanie Behrends, communications manager for TaxAct's parent company, 2nd Story Software, said college students can benefit from filing online with TaxAct's free filing system.

"The primary advantages (of TaxAct) include the conservation of time and money, along with an easy-to-use interface that provides accurate calculations," Behrends wrote in an e-mail interview. "In most cases, college-age filers are likely to find that Tax Act's Standard Edition will meet their needs."

TaxAct's free federal filing system is a no-frills step-by-step program for citizens without many itemized deductions, multiple bank accounts, stock portfolio or other noteworthy financial situations that might require a CPA to unravel.

Despite a free filing system that would appeal to money-conscious students, just less than 10 percent of TaxAct's e-filers are between the ages of 18 and 24. Most of the company's business comes from established jobholders between the ages of 35 and 44. And lower-income citizens aren't taking advantage of TaxAct either – only 18 percent of the company's users make less than $30,000 a year.

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