April 15 is two weeks away, but you need to file before you play.
Before heading for vacation or getting ready for the hectic Masters Tournament week, taxpayers are advised to file their income taxes to avoid missing the deadline.
And many are following that advice.
"People have finally come to the decision that it's time to stop procrastinating," said Mark Daniel, area manager for Rhodes-Murphy Income Tax Service.
Taxpayers can always file paper returns, but electronic filing and direct deposit will speed refunds.
The Internal Revenue Service and the states of Georgia and South Carolina offer electronic filing, which can take an average of five weeks off the time to get a refund, Mr. Daniel said. All state returns filed electronically must be accompanied by a federal return filed electronically.
The refund from an electronically filed return generally takes 10 to 18 days, and with direct deposit, it can be about five days faster, tax preparers said.
The IRS has simplified direct deposit of refunds, which is available even with paper returns. But not all states offer the service with their filed returns. Taxpayers who file South Carolina tax returns electronically can benefit this year. Georgia does not offer the service yet, although checks are processed faster with electronic filing.
More taxpayers are filing electronically, tax preparers say.
IRS personnel in the Augusta office will electronically file federal returns free on a first-come, first-served basis, said Rosemary Suchko, IRS revenue agent in the examination division in Augusta. Electronic filing will be done from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Taxpayers must present a photo identification and Social Security card, and joint filers both must be present at the time of the filing, she said.
The fees to IRS-authorized preparers range from $25 to $50 per filing. That fee, along with any other tax preparation fees, can be deducted on some taxpayers' 1997 returns next year as an investment expense.
"Once people see how much faster their refund comes, it's much easier to wait three weeks than three months," said Karen Stinson, Augusta District spokeswoman for H&R Block and director of H&R Block Premium.
Also, some selected taxpayers can file by telephone, or those with access to an online service such as America Online, can file online.
Computer programs such as TurboTax or MacinTax make paper forms easier to read, but do not provide electronic filing capabilities from taxpayers' homes. Commercial tax preparers cannot take information directly from such programs, Ms. Stinson said; they must take information from printouts and key it into their systems.
If taxes are owed, that's a different story.
Ms. Stinson said neither Georgia nor South Carolina will accept electronic filing if taxpayers owe taxes, but the IRS Will.
An extension is another option, said Jesse Hughes, owner of Hughes Business Services, which offers income tax filing.
"If a client calls and his information is not prepared, we do an extension," Mr. Hughes said. An extension, however, does not extend the time to pay any income taxes owed.
when she spoke to the Augusta chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants last week.
In the past, IRS office personnel would prepare a simple 1040 form for taxpayers, but now they just handle 1040A and 1040EZ forms, she said.
And she promoted electronic filing. "It increases the accuracy of returns that are filed," Ms. Suchko said.
Mr. Hughes recommends that if taxpayers do plan to file before April 15, they should not rush when they do it.
"Rushing only helps the Internal Revenue Service," he said.
Other assistance is offered on-line: Get a list of On-line Filing Program companies through the IRS home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.irs.ustres.gov or directly by modem at (703) 321-8020. Forms also are available on the Web.