Sept. 11'S

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There is hardly a thread in the fabric of American life that has not been touched by the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath.

Including the way we do our taxes.

"This year, because of all the anthrax scares, there's a lot of trepidation within the IRS that, should someone send tainted mail to them, there could be hundreds of thousands of returns stuck in the machinery while they're trying to decontaminate mail," Payson tax preparer William A. Kamp of Ashlan Pine Accounting, said.

"I've been telling my clients that, if you have money coming back, electronically file your return," Kamp said. "It doesn't cost that much more, there's no mail involved, the returns are 99.9 percent accurate, and you get your money back faster."

Prior to the attacks and anthrax scares, the Internal Revenue Service had planning to spend $80 to $100 million on a five-year media and advertising campaign to persuade more taxpayers to file their tax returns online and promote its customer-friendly services.

"The IRS has been mandated by Congress to have 80 percent of all returns electronically filed by the year 2007, as opposed to being mailed," Kamp said.

Last year, 40 million Americans filed their tax returns electronically, 2 million short of the IRS goal. This year, the IRS had set a target of 46 million electronic tax returns and expects to possibly surpass that goal because an increasing number of taxpayers may turn to electronic filing as a result of the anthrax mail scares.

While sensitive to playing on people's fears, the IRS clearly believes concerns about mail are serious. The agency plans to process mailed-in tax returns at off-site centers where they can be inspected for disease.

"There's a compelling case for e-filing," observed one tax preparer at a recent conference, summing up the potential problem faced by the IRS.

Although the IRS' newest electronic services were not developed with the Sept. 11 crisis in mind, they could alleviate people's concerns about filing online. For example, the IRS website suggests, taxpayers will be able to track their returns online, and they will spend less time on hold waiting to talk to an IRS representative.

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