More taxpayers using do-it-yourself software

Chris Blume, of Martinez, is a do-it-yourself tax filer.

For the past two years, she has used free tax-preparation software at TaxSlayer.com. She pays only to file her family's federal and state returns for Georgia and South Carolina.

"I don't think I spent more than $30 or $40 on all of them. It was pretty simple. As long as I have nothing really complicated, I will probably continue to do my own taxes. They make it so easy," Bloom said.

It took her less than an hour, and she saved money, which is more important than ever in these tough times, she said.

"Just listening to other people, they're paying over $100 to get their taxes done. That absolutely played a big part in it," Bloom said.

Many people have developed a do-it-yourself mentality when it comes to filing their income taxes, purchasing software instead of paying a tax professional.

"It's dollars and cents. I'm saving money. That's the best thing," said Tracy Chitwood, of North Augusta.

She files her taxes using TurboTax software through the Free File program on the Internal Revenue Service Web site, which is available to taxpayers who earn less than $57,000 a year.

Nationally, tax preparers such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt have seen a drop in clients, while sales of TurboTax software rose 10 percent through mid-March from the same period a year ago.

Jackson Hewitt's 14 locations in the Augusta area have seen a slight decline in business, franchise owner Ramesh Khosla said.

"The trend is more toward trying to do it yourself, especially among the younger filers who are a little more comfortable with the computer," Khosla said.

"We've also seen that when people try to do it themselves, they get stumped or they're not aware of all the credits that are available. Then they end up coming to us."

Each year in the off-season, Jackson Hewitt's offices get visits from people who have attempted to file their own taxes, but they have received letters from the IRS and need to file amendments, he explained.

Software is less expensive in many cases -- at least up front.

At Best Buy, Turbo Tax software costs $59.99. and H&R Block's software costs $39.99 to $54.99.

At Jackson Hewitt, it costs $75 to file a 1040EZ for one state. An itemized return is $200. A taxpayer with business income, rental property and investment income could pay up to $500, Khosla said.

At H&R Block, it costs $35 to file a 1040EZ. For more complicated returns, the price could run up to a few hundred dollars, said Steve Harvey, the district manager for the company.

"It's not uncommon for taxpayers in our area to file a federal return, along with both a Georgia and South Carolina state return. On average, it costs $200 to $225 to file all three returns, but every tax return is different," Harvey said.

Some independent tax preparers in the area say this tax season has been business as usual.

"It's about the same as last year," said Andrea Usry, a principal at Serotta Maddocks Evans and Co. "We've actually picked up some new clients along the way."

The Cleveland Group and Rhodes-Murphy Income Tax Service reported similar experiences.

"We've seen some of that, but we've also seen just as many people who may have prepared their own return last year decide to use a CPA (this year). For us, it's really kind of balanced itself out," said William Cleveland, a senior partner at The Cleveland Group.

As of Monday, the Internal Revenue Service had received 2.6 million electronic returns from Georgia, IRS spokesman Mark Green said. The state now ranks among the top five in the nation for electronic filing.

"The number of returns are up. We are finding that more individuals here in Georgia have taken advantage of electronic filing, whether that's by purchasing the software themselves through the retail stores or visiting us and taking advantage of the free services that we offer," Green said.

In South Carolina, 1.2 million returns have been filed electronically this year, he said.

Deadline to file taxes is Thursday

- If you still need tax forms, most forms and publications can be downloaded from the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov (under the "Forms and Publications" link).

- Taxpayers who are unemployed or struggling financially can find information on tax assistance and relief at the IRS's new electronic tax center, IRS.gov.

- Taxpayers who need extra time to file their federal returns can file the Form 4868 request for an automatic extension through IRS Free File. The extension gives you an additional six months to file. (An extension to file is not an extension to pay. You need to estimate your tax liability and pay any balance due.)

Source: Mark Green, Internal Revenue Service

Tax day tea party

Organizers expect from 5,000 to 10,000 protesters from Georgia and South Carolina to attend Augusta's second-annual Tax Day Tea Party on Thursday at the Augusta Commons.

WHAT: Tax Day Tea Party

WHEN: 5-9 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Augusta Commons, between Eighth and Ninth streets

SPEAKERS: Candidates John Oxendine, Nathan Deal, Jeff Duncan, Melvin Everson, Nikki Haley, Paul Broun, Jeanne Seaver, Ray McBerry, Taylor Bryant, Gerry Purcell, others

ENTERTAINMENT: Ed Turner and Friends, Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold

COST: Free; refreshments and souvenirs will be available

CONTACT: RSVP on Facebook or visit www.augustateaparty.org.

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