Although practically everyone hates paying income taxes, many people dread filling out tax returns even more.
For folks who hate math and the hassle of completing tax forms, there's good news.
California tax returns for about 32,000 residents in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and nearby foothills have been completed automatically by the state's computers.
Those taxpayers simply have to go online and confirm that the income data is correct.
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"ReadyReturn offers a simple, fast and free way to take care of your state tax return," state Controller John Chiang said. "This innovative program takes the burden out of the tax return with a few mouse clicks."
The computerized tax-filing system uses wage and tax withholding data provided by employers to complete taxpayers' returns. Taxpayers can access their ReadyReturn via the Internet.
But if last year's response is any indicator, few people will take advantage of the free service.
In Stanislaus County, for instance, 11,300 taxpayers could have used ReadyReturn last year, but just 748 did. That's less than 7 percent.
The state wants more people to use the already completed forms this year because they save the government money.
"It streamlines the process," said Denise Azimi, spokeswoman for the state's Franchise Tax Board, which collects income taxes. "ReadyReturn is a much more cost-efficient way for us to process the returns."
Azimi said the computer-completed forms have fewer errors than those prepared by hand. She said ReadyReturn enables taxpayers to file returns online for free.
"If you electronically file, you can get your tax refund back in seven days," said Azimi, noting that refunds can be even quicker for those who agree to direct deposits to bank accounts.
ReadyReturn is available only for taxpayers who file the most basic returns and do not itemize deductions.
Taxpayers qualify if they:
Filed a 2008 California resident tax return with a filing status of single or head of household
Had no more than five dependents, claimed no special credits other than the renter's credit and took the standard deduction on the 2008 return
Had only one employer in 2009
Married couples, those who claim home mortgage expenses or other itemized deductions, and those who had multiple sources of income cannot use ReadyReturn.
But 2 million California taxpayers can, including about 11,300 in Stanislaus County, 5,000 in Merced County, 13,600 in San Joaquin County, 1,000 in Tuolumne County, 800 in Calaveras County and 300 in Mariposa County.
All those computer-completed returns are posted on the Internet waiting for taxpayers' approval to file.
"There's no downside in looking at your ReadyReturn," Azimi said. Taxpayers who want to change how their return is filled out -- for instance, by itemizing deductions -- can do so. "For those who do, the ReadyReturn can provide a really good start."
Simple to revise
Taxpayers who married, entered into a registered domestic partnership, had a child, received additional income, or qualify for a tax credit, can easily update their ReadyReturn online.
For those not eligible for ReadyReturn, the state offers CalFile.
CalFile is a free electronic-filing program that accommodates more complicated tax filings, and it takes an estimated 15 minutes to 30 minutes to complete. About 6 million of California's 15 million personal income tax returns can be filed via CalFile.
Taxpayers can find their ReadyReturn tax files or use the CalFile program by going online to http://ftb.ca.gov.
To access their personal data online, taxpayers must submit their name, Social Security number and a customer service number. They can get a customer service number online (using data from their 2008 tax return) or by calling 800-353-9032.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.