Now that the last remnants of Christmas have been packed away and hauled to the attic, it is time to pull out the calculator, W-2s, and receipts in preparation for the 2003 tax-filing season. If your brain has not quite made the transition from dancing sugarplums to the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, do not despair. Online help is just a click away. Soon visions of reduced capital gains rates, marriage penalty relief, and increased child tax credits will be swirling through your head.
A great place to launch your online quest for tax information is <www.taxsites.com>, an award-winning site that offers a comprehensive register of tax-related information. Whether you are searching for current standard mileage rates or an in-depth discussion of the nanny tax, this directory can guide you to an answer. The user-friendly format easily jump-sites visitors to reliable sources which assist in the preparation of tax returns as well as provide planning tips for reducing future tax burdens.
The taxsites.com information bank provides links to the IRS Web site, Kiplinger's TaxCut, the Motley Fool, and SmartMoney, as well as lesser-known, more diverse offerings. Two other sites worth checking out: TaxMama and Uncle Fed, are both found under taxsites.com's Tax: Guides-Tips-Help topic. TaxMama (slogan: "Tax Information with a Mother's Touch"), is touted by INC magazine and Ms. Money and offers information on a wide spectrum of financial topics. Posted questions are answered in a folksy manner on topics ranging from deduction rates on bonus paychecks to inheritance disclaimers. And, if tax research starts to get too heavy, TaxMama offers comic respite with a regular feature titled "Money Funnies." Uncle Fed, a commercial site with no government affiliation, provides "audit-proofing" advice on how to minimize chances for an IRS audit and also includes articles on how to survive an audit should this strategy fail. In addition, this site offers some nifty financial calculators that aid in retirement planning and other monetary considerations such as lease versus buy, mortgage affordability, and how to achieve savings goals.
If you are seeking the skinny straight from Uncle Sam, <www.irs.gov> is the official Internal Revenue Service Web site. Here you can find forms, instructions to forms, IRS news releases, and the text to the Internal Revenue Service's mission statement regarding its duty to provide taxpayers with "top quality service" by "applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all" (someone should submit this to Money Funnies….) The IRS site offers an interesting interactive feature that walks visitors through frequently encountered tax situations, such as how to treat distributions from insurance company demutualizations. To access this feature, type "Tax Trails" in the "Search IRS site for:" box. If you are into statistics, this site can also supply you with fascinating information to impress your friends at dinner parties: did you know the IRS hauls in more than $1 trillion in individual income taxes alone each year?
If you want to bone up on state taxes, <taxsites.com> is still my recommendation. The taxsites.com menu provides bonus links to legal research, judicial information, and Illinois revenue statutes. Although you can access the Illinois Department of Revenue site directly via <www.revenue.state.il.us>, I have found it easier to go to taxsites.com and to jump to Illinois through the "State" menu option. Once you are on the Illinois Department of Revenue home page, be sure to click on the "Related Sites" button on the left-hand side of the screen. This will lead you to a link to the Illinois State Treasurer's Office Unclaimed Property Web site. This site offers an easy-to-search database for discovering if Great-Aunt Mary left an unclaimed stash of cash, which the state is now holding to distribute to her rightful heir-which hopefully is you!
*Kelly Wingard is a private tax preparer with Kates Tax Service in Decatur.