And the winner is...? No, not Crash. At least, not in this contest. While the movie may have been an Academy Award surprise, it's not even in the running here. Here, we're talking about tax-preparation programs. But we're not going to cast the winning vote. You are. We'll tell you what's new and flashy -- kind of like Jessica Alba's shimmering, bronze Versace gown -- but it's up to you to make the final call. So please let us know who you think are the winners and losers. We'll share your thoughts in a future column.
Back in 1998, Congress declared that it wanted 80% of taxpayers to be electronically filing their returns by 2007. Well, just like Good Night, and Good Luck's shot at the Best Picture Oscar, that goal is so close, and yet so far. "Last year, we were over 50% for the first time, with 68 million tax returns filed electronically," says Nancy Mathis, a spokeswoman for the IRS. This year, they're looking to hit 55%. It's progress, but it's a long way from 80%. But the IRS' Free File program should continue to help. The program was created in 2002 to help people with low incomes prepare and e-file their returns. Three years later, 20 tax-preparation companies are now on board, offering their products to lower-income taxpayers and allowing them to prepare and e-file their federal returns for free. (Check out the IRS site for a full list.) Each company has set its own criteria for who qualifies, but overall, people with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) of $50,000 or less should be eligible for a freebie. The IRS created a questionnaire to help you find a free site that fits your profile, so check it out. Big note: To take advantage of the free filing, you must go through the IRS Web site. You can click to your favorite tax-prep site from there, but you have to start with the IRS to get the giveaway.