If you've been toying with the idea of preparing your income tax return on the Internet but haven't taken that big, bold step, consider trying it this year. It won't cost you a dime.
H&R; Block, Intuit - the makers of Quicken and Turbo Tax - and CompleteTax.com want you to visit their sites this season, input your numbers and let their programs figure what you owe - or what you're getting back - without having to worry about tapping in your credit-card information.
Fee of $10 to $30
That's not to say the services are free. When you decide to hit the Print or E-File buttons, you'll need to pay - anywhere from $10 to $30 for a federal return, depending on the level of service you use.
But the try-before-you-buy incentive could be the deciding point for consumers who are riding the fence when it comes to reporting financial comings and goings to Uncle Sam.
"There are 35 million people out there who are still doing the pen and paper thing," said Aaron Horvath, director of online products for H&R; Block. "They could log into the Web site and go through the process. It's free until they're satisfied with the outcome of their return."
The folks at Turbotax.com are hoping to pick up more new Web customers this year, just as they have for the past few years.
"Every year, we're seeing phenomenal growth on the Web," said Elizabeth Cabrera, a product manager for Intuit. "Last year, we had 2.4 million users on the Web, up by 1 million from the previous year. Last year, 60 percent of the people who filed on Turbo Tax for the Web were first-time customers."
H&R; Block has added several services to its online product, realizing that one of the reasons people don't complete online returns is because they get stumped somewhere along the line. H&R; Block's added services include:
Professional review: After the online return is filed, an H&R; Block tax preparer will review it for errors.
Ask a tax adviser: A feature that allows users to send questions - via e-mail or online chat - to tax professionals.
Professional tax service: You fill in your tax information electronically and H&R; Block does the rest.
Of course, each of these services costs extra but it's a good step in bringing some peace of mind to the users.
No software to install
Beyond that, using an online service has other advantages. It's convenient - there's no software to install. It doesn't require a commitment.
If you don't like the return and think you or another product will find deductions you may have missed, don't print it. You won't be charged.
And it's as safe as banking or managing your stock portfolio online.
"For the people using the online service, security is not a concern," Horvath said. "These are people who are doing online banking and trading and filling out online mortgage applications. They've kind of gotten over that hurdle."