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Rated: 13+ · Column · Computers · #1858793
One of Pittsburgh Trib columns I published over many years, about E-filing taxes.

The E in e-file stands for EVIL          Originally published in the Focus Magazine
By Dana Datko                                                                                April 2007

Last winter, I struggled daily to master my first personal computer with all its many Ghz, Mbs, peripherals and metatarsals, so I barely had time to open any actual mail, let alone cook or get dressed, for pete's sake. No wonder I failed to notice my mail basket crammed with envelopes stamped "IMPORTANT TAX DOCUMENTS" or that the dog had been missing since New Year's.

One day in late January, my daughter phoned to ask if she could use my computer to file her federal income-tax return.

"I'll buy one of those tax programs I've seen advertised, and you can help me with it. If you like it, you can e-file your return, too," she added.

E-file? "Sure, no problem," I replied in a confident tone. I hung up and peered at the top page of my desk calendar. October? After digging through the mail pile, I found an up-to-date calendar. Right there, on the block under Jan. 31, large red letters proclaimed, "Gather all papers and do taxes!" I had printed those words myself, obviously before my terrible sickness had set in, or as my family refers to it, "back in the B.C. days" (Before Computer).

Several glasses of chardonnay later, I had calmed down. I decided e-filing was the way to go -- accurate computations and quick refunds. However, in the School of Computer Literacy, I was just learning to color inside the lines, and my daughter was down the hall in pre-K playing "Itsy, Bitsy Spider."

How hard could e-filing be? Thousands of taxpayers e-filed their returns every year. It would be a snap. I visualized clicking a magic button and sending my perfectly calculated return through cyberspace to the IRS, who would then zap my refund into my checking account. I'd immediately drive to the nearest ATM where the drawer would bulge with my readily available cash.

Yes, and hyperlinks come from neurotic, flying pigs.

The next morning, my daughter arrived, waving a small green box. I shuddered with a sense of impending doom when she chirped, "I didn't have enough money for the Deluxe Tax Software, so I picked up this simpler version at the dollar store. Isn't that great?"

Right off the bat, we had saved $15.90.

For the next four to five hours our conversation went something like this: "Mac or Windows download?" "Windows." "Why did that little box pop up?" "What does it say?" "Do I open or save?" "Um, let's see. ..." "What the heck! Where did that page go?" "What page?" "Why do they keep asking me that?" "Uhh. ..."

"Do you have any wine left?"

"Be right back."

We learned the hard way that clicking on "Go Back" really meant we'd "Get Lost;" that selecting "Finish" meant beginning again on page 1 of 55 pages; and that one way to "Delete Errors" was to firmly smack the mouse against a hard object such as a door jamb or a forehead.

Unfortunately, that year, most over-the-counter computer programs were designed months before the IRS published the updates. We didn't know that. We spent the next day and a half trying to find the crucial update, which was tantamount to downloading updates from the Land of Oz.

After repeated attempts, the printer regurgitated 45 pages of government advisements except for the one my daughter needed to finish and e-file her return. Finally, we received the vital information -- "This update will be available on or around February 17. We hope."

My advice for anyone considering e-filing their income tax return is to:

A. Pay someone else to do it for you, you silly fool.

B. Quickly move someplace with no federal income tax, like a rainforest or Arkansas.

My daughter went home to await the update. I spent the next 45 minutes filling out Form 1040, which I sealed in a stamped, addressed envelope.

Thank gosh the dog had come back. He remembered how to get to the mailbox.
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