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By Adam Guttentag Staff
Sunday, January 17, 1999

Getting Started

Before you dive into this endeavor why not ask: " Do I need to file a tax return?" The IRS says that many people with low incomes don't realize that they are exempt from filing. Are you or someone you know (a college student, perhaps) among them?

If you're still reading this you are probably among the millions of Americans who have to file. How would you like to file that 1040 form? [choose one]

  1. I'm going to do it myself, on paper, the old-fashioned way!
  2. I was the first person on my block to own a microwave! Show me how to file electronically!
  3. None of the above. I'd rather browse the resources than take the guided tour.


Just because you're still filing on dead trees doesn't mean you can't take advantage of your computer's resources.

For starters, any form you could need – no matter how obscure – can be downloaded from the IRS Web site, though we have copies of the most commonly-requested forms on our site. Regardless of where you get the forms, you will need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader (it's free) to print them.

The IRS site also maintains a number of interactive questions that help answer those sticky questions that are otherwise answered by the words "that depends." An electronic newsletter keeps you up to date on all the obscure deadlines (don't forget to check out the interactive tax calendar on our site).

For access to the FAQs, news, site map and more, see our IRS site guide on this page. If you're still having trouble finding, consider seeking some third-party advice.


If you have a computer with a modem, you can purchase tax-preparation software that allows you to file electronically using a system called IRS e-file. You answer the program's questions, fill in the blanks, and transmit your data over the phone lines.

Through IRS e-file, your return is more likely to be error-free, you don't have to worry about papers getting lost in the mail, and the IRS claims you will get your refund in half the time.

  • To file electronically, you first must find an authorized IRS e-file provider.
  • You will also need to purchase the latest version of IRS e-file-ready tax preparation software. It will provide you with the questions and forms you need as well as the ability to transmit your return to a provider.
  • Sending the data to your provider does not place you in the clear, though–the process isn't completely paperless (yet). You still have to send in Form 8453-OL by mail (you can download the form from the IRS Web site's "Forms and Publications" section). Read the e-file FAQ for more information.

    the IRS Web site | tax tools | state tax forms | advice



    The IRS Web site is a huge compendium of forms, FAQs, glossaries and interactive question-and-answer pages. The tax information you seek is probably there, but finding that information is a daunting task – especially if you start at the front door. We've explored the maze to make your searches a little easier. Here are some good starting points.
  • The site tree is an index page that should serve as your map.
  • The Digital Daily is a guide to what's new in IRS World. Plus it keeps track of how many days you have until the ides of April.
  • Download any form you need from the "Forms and Publications" section; note that you can download the most commonly-requested forms on our site (you will need to download Adobe's free utility Acrobat Reader to print them).

    You can download forms and get other information for your state taxes.
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • The District of Columbia
  • To find tax forms for other states, see Dennis Schmidt's state taxes page.

    Here's a collection of IRS-math-savvy gadgets that will help you calculate your return.
  • Will the tax fairy be bringing you a refund this year? Ask the H&R Block Refund Calculator.
  • Don't forget the IRS Web site. It's full of pages that can answer your questions by asking you questions. For example:
    Question: "Do I qualify for such and such and exemption?"
    IRS: "Are you 21 or older?"
    You: "No."
    IRS: "Can anyone claim you as a dependent?"
    You: "No."
    IRS: "Based on your answers, you ARE qualified for such and such exemption."
  • There is also a collection of Web-based tax tools from Intuit on our site as well as information and downloads for tax software.


    Wouldn't it be nice if the tax-season headache subsided when you mailed your return? Even when you think you've reported everything and calculated appropriately, there's a chance that there's an error lurking somewhere.

    Dollar for Dollar hopes its IRS Hotbuttons page can put your mind at ease. It says the IRS looks more closely at some sections of your return than others. If you can be certain that those sections are flawless, they say any other minor errors have a greater chance of slipping by undetected.

    Taxweb has compiled a set of answers to many of the same frequently-asked questions addressed on the IRS Web site. While the IRS FAQ attempts to emulate a drawn out human question and answer session, Taxweb lays out all the conditions and answers in one table. It's up to you to determine which format works best for you.

    Make sure to visit our current and archived Post stories and columns for tax advice.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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