Hate all those paper tax forms? Have access to an IBM-compatible computer? If you do, you can get a free software program that can fill out your tax form and crunch the numbers. The benefactor? The Internal Revenue Service.
This is the second year for the nationwide IRS program, called PIPER, which stands for Paper Input Processed as Electronic Return. Last year, 7,000 people used the system nationwide, including some taxpayers in Maryland, according to Aaron R. Welch, electronic filing coordinator for the IRS' Baltimore district office.
In past years the computer-generated forms had to be sent to Andover, Mass., or Cincinnati. This year, the forms can also be sent to the IRS service center in Philadelphia, Mr. Welsh said.
The program is open to any taxpayer in the region who files Forms 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040.
To use it, you must have access to an IBM-compatible computer and a printer and be willing to send the IRS a blank 3 1/2 -inch or 5 1/4 -inch computer disk.
One of the advantages to PIPER, along with electronic filing, is that any refund will be directly deposited into a taxpayer's bank account, Mr. Welsh said.
"When you read the instruction book, it's very easy to follow," said Joseph H. Cloonan, director of the Philadelphia Service Center, which processes returns from Maryland. "We made sure people would understand it."
PIPER is part of a continuing effort by the IRS to reduce the amount of paperwork associated with filing a tax return. And, because the system is computerized, fewer errors are made.
"It was always a dream to have a paperless tax system," Mr. Cloonan said. "Any time you can eliminate human intervention, you are going to get a better product. But I don't think you or I will see it in our lifetimes, where the system will be perfectly paper-free."
PIPER does not require a professional preparer and is open to all taxpayers in the nation who have the proper IBM-compatible computers.
Here's how PIPER works:
Call (215) 969-7533 for instructions. You will be told, among other things, to mail a blank computer disk to the IRS. The agency will copy its software program onto the disk and send it back.
When you are ready to prepare your return, simply follow the step-by-step instructions. All you do is type the information on the lines provided. The computer does all the arithmetic.
The program includes all the necessary schedules and can be used by most taxpayers. However, there may be some returns that are too complicated for PIPER.
When you are finished, you will be instructed to print a copy of your return for your records.
You also will print a second copy that will not look like a standard tax return. It is an "answer sheet" designed for IRS computers. You must sign that copy and send it in. You also must copy your return onto a second computer disk, which also will be mailed to the IRS.
It takes about three weeks to process PIPER returns and make refunds, if refunds are due. If you owe additional taxes, that amount is due by April 15.
Although PIPER may make life easier for some taxpayers, some professional tax preparers aren't happy, Mr. Cloonan said. They fear it will take business away from them.
"We want to provide different ways for people to file their tax returns," he said. "It's as simple as that."
In addition, Mr. Cloonan said, any preparer who wants to use the system may do so. The software is free to them, too.
For more information about the program, taxpayers can call Mr. Welsh in Baltimore at 962-1801.