Online Original: Tax Help On The Web: A Multilevel Map

Don't waste your time hacking a path through the jungle of tax sites on the Internet -- use this four-tier map as a guide to getting all the info you need for this year's tax season. If you want the no-stress path, go straight to the "One-Stop Sites" that offer everything from forms to expert advice and electronic filing. Either way, you can do it all without ever surfacing from cyberspace.


Tax Forms

* -- The IRS site, epicenter of the whole experience, fount of all confounding tax wisdom

* -- Get this extension form if you're late for an important date

* - State forms

Web-Based Tax-Preparation and E-Filing

* -- The tax-prep equivalent of Web-based E-mail: Intuit now offers free tax-prep services on its site. Modeled on its popular TurboTax software, WebTurboTax coaxes the necessary information out of you through a painless interview process and offers advice, explanations, and suggestions on deductions. E-filing costs $9.95 for 1040EZ and $19.95 for 1040/1040A, although if you earn below $20,000, it's free.

* -- Basic E-filing for those who know their way around their 1040. Secure Tax's site lacks much of the handholding and advice fuller Web-based preparation programs provide, and it charges $9.95 for E-filing a 1040EZ form and $14.95 for a 1040

* -- No Web-based tax preparation here, but you can download Kiplinger's software for a fee. E-filing is integrated into the program, and your first filing is free with purchase; follow-ons are $9.95 each.


Tax Tips

*, -- Don't know if you're a trader or an investor, or when your gain is normal or capital? Get your answers from the horse's mouth -- the IRS site. Small-business owners can try

* -- CBS MarketWatch offers snappy answers to questions like "How the IRS catches cheaters" to make Apr. 15 less taxing.

* -- An expert but appropriately sober tract from accountant KPMG in very plain language

Tax Law Changes

* -- If you're a glutton for punishment or an accountant, here's the complete U.S. tax code, all 2.8 million words of it

* -- Kiplinger untangles the 800 or so changes in tax law since 1997. Wade through more generous section 179 write-offs, education relief, and even more changes in capital-gains taxes.

* -- Arthur Andersen carefully analyzes the myriad changes brought on by the 1997 Taxpayer Relief Act and their implications for individuals, families, businesses, and specific industries.

Tax-Savvy Investments

* -- T. Rowe Price offers comprehensive advice on how to stop the taxman from swiping your investments. Look beyond Roth IRAs to tax-free money market and bond funds, and tax-deferred annuities.

* -- Fairmark steers expert investors through the tax pitfalls of mutual funds or being paid in stock options, yet it gives an easy-to-understand primer for any wannabe-Buffett just starting out.

* -- To Roth or not to Roth? ABC News offers Roth IRA 101 to help you figure out this and other perplexing Roth questions.


Message boards and customized advice

* -- If none of the above, does much for you, you can pose your baffling queries to Tax Logic's team of CPAs. The gurus' advice is free if the site prepares your tax return. Otherwise, there's a $15 charge. Tax Logic also has a helpful message board and a Web-based tax-preparation service.

* -- IRS-trained volunteers respond to questions you post on this site. Free personalized attention usually helps make the tax bite less painful.

* -- Experts, real and self-styled, hang around this busy message board and shed light on such topics as gift-tax rules and why FICA withholding can jump 600%


* -- Intuit's site is the all-around champ in providing a one-stop cure for tax-time headaches. Every element mentioned above is present here in one form or another, including a glossary of tax terms for the seriously befuddled and a discount on tax-preparation software if you download it from the site.

* -- while MSN's Money Central tax site isn't as deep as Intuit's, it covers a large range of possible tax trip-ups and provides clear, succinct answers. Links to every stage of the tax-preparation process are available, and there's advice on how to protect every kind of investment imaginable from the taxman.

* -- Yahoo's tax center is more of a bare-bones site suitable for anyone who stays calm at the sight of Schedules A to D. Its stand-out resources include a local accountant or tax preparer locator (just type in your Zip code) and a teeming message board.

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