For the second year in a row, the Internal Revenue Service is offering its own version of electronic tax forms tool, Free File Fillable Forms. It's more primitive than commercial tax software, but it's workable.
More important, it's free and comes with e-file.
For the first time in years I ditched commercial tax software to give Free File Fillable Forms a try. It allowed me to file Schedule Cs and other forms of mid-level complexity with no more guidance than the IRS instructions and my 2008 return. It made me wonder if I really needed a $20 or $50 tax program.
Then I hit a weird glitch. The IRS rejected my e-filed tax forms. Twice.
This is surprising because e-file is supposed to be the IRS's forte. A big reason it went to the trouble of creating Free File Fillable Forms was to help taxpayers file electronically.
What made things worse is that the error message didn't help solve the problem. It said I could only file two Schedule SEs. (I had only filed two) and referred me to the online help documents. They didn't help either, so I called IRS media relations.
I learned that my problem, which the error message didn’t make clear, was that as the primary taxpayer I was supposed to fill out the first SE schedule (I’d put my wife's first).
An IRS official said the agency would update the error code with additional information to make that point clear. But the episode got me to wondering: Are other taxpayers having trouble with e-filing?
The government says no. "The IRS is not aware of any problems or issues with Free File Fillable Forms," the IRS said in a statement.
A spokesman for H&R Block, the nationwide tax preparer, concurs, saying his company is not seeing any difference this year in the number of rejects after e-filing.
So maybe it's just me.
But in case you, too, are having trouble e-filing with Free File Fillable Forms, here are some tips from the IRS:
1. Check out the IRS FAQs for help.
2. Make your computer system as compatible as possible: Disable pop-up blockers, allow for cookies, and have an updated Adobe reader so you can print.
3. If you hit a snag not addressed by the FAQs above, try clearing your cookies, closing your browser, and then reopening it. (Also, if you are using an office computer, there also can be some firewall issues.)
4. If these steps don't work, contact the IRS support desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-829-1040.
Of course, with tax day fast approaching, you might not get an answer in time. As a last resort, you can do what I did: print out those tax forms and mail them in.