California Tax Preparers Gear Up for Mandatory E-Filing

A new law in California has some tax preparers scrambling to ensure they can file every state tax return electronically this year.

The law requires all tax preparers who filed more than 100 state returns for the 2002 tax year to submit all their work for this tax season by computer. Taxpayers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The California Society of CPAs says that reaction to the new law has been mixed.

One CPA, Donna Flanders of Modesto, told the Modesto Bell that e-filing is "the wave of the future" that cuts down on paperwork. Another tax preparer, Liz Esquivel of Turlock, told the newspaper that the law is going to make this tax season more difficult. She said she will have to hire an assistant to deal with preparing an electronic version for the state and a paper version for the federal government. Federal taxes also can be filed over the Internet, but it's not required.

State officials are hoping that residents who prepare their own taxes will file by computer as well.

The Franchise Tax Board says that nearly 4 million taxpayers filed their taxes electronically last year. One of the biggest advantages, according to the board, is speed, as taxpayers can receive their refund in five to seven business days if they ask that it be directly deposited into their bank account. E-filing is also more accurate. Paper returns have a 10 percent error rate while that rate is less than 1 percent for returns filed electronically, the board states.

The Franchise Tax Board (www.ftb.ca.gov) is offering the free "Netfile" program to help people file electronically. Information on the new requirement, a list of approved e-file software, forms and other documents can be found at www.ftb.ca.gov/professionals/eServices/efile/M_e_file.html.

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