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Sunday, April 14, 2013 - 11:42pm

Tax Day Is Here

Georgians still have a few hours to finish their 2012 federal and state tax returns before they’re due Monday at midnight. Tax officials report more state residents are filing electronically, and many taxpayers can do that for free.

The well-known federal program that allows some taxpayers to file returns for free electronically also extends to Georgia returns, too.

The state Department of Revenue has no data on how many taxpayers take advantage of the free program, but electronic filing, in general, is growing, and state Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie said the free-file program likely is part of the reason. (A list of free electronic-filing providers is on the Department of Revenue’s website.)

He said filing electronically - for free or through paid services -- is better for the state and for taxpayers.

“We can process [the returns] more efficiently; they tend to be more correct, because instead of adding on your own, they do it for you; and people take the right credits and deductions on their income taxes and don’t miss those things and/or take ones they shouldn’t be taking," MacGinnitie said.

He said more than 80 percent of the 4.2 million state tax returns last year came electronically, a record number.

MacGinnitie said e-filing is just as secure as mailing tax forms.

“If you do it by paper, your return’s in the mail. There are certainly examples of mail being stolen, opened, misplaced. Electronic, I think, is as or more secure in terms of the transfer,” MacGinnitie said.

More than two-thirds of Georgia taxpayers have filed their state returns already for 2012; not surprisingly, most of those got a refund. The rest have until midnight to get state and federal taxes in or request an automatic extension. The delay only applies to the tax paperwork, however; taxpayers still must pay any taxes they owe by Monday.

MacGinnitie said fraud has become an enormous problem around tax time, so his department is spending extra time making sure fake returns don’t get processed. If they do, he said it’s difficult to get the state’s money back.

“We do prosecute people and we do try to get money back," MacGinnitie said. "We are much better at stopping than we are prosecuting, and we are much better at prosecuting than we are getting the money back. Because even if you find the people and you prosecute them, the chance of getting the money back is pretty low.”

MacGinnitie said the revenue department stopped 160,000 fake returns last year that would’ve refunded almost $100 million.