Returns can be prepared for free. You need to pay only when filing it electronically.

As each tax filing season springs, more and more of us are being brought into the e-filing net. This year, the Income Tax department has made it mandatory for individuals whose total income exceeds Rs 5 lakh, to file their returns online. The limit was Rs 10 lakh last year.

Besides, those holding assets abroad or having signing authority in any account located outside India and those claiming tax relief under certain circumstances also need to file returns online.

If you too need to do it online, take the help of the several websites offering e-filing services.

Basic services

Services provided on these websites range from the ‘do-it-yourself step by step’ way, to interacting with experts face-to-face, to mailing them a copy of your Form 16 and forgetting about the rest.

If you choose the do-it-yourself mode, taxsmile.com, for instance, has an interactive platform wherein the interface asks you questions about your income, investments, tax deductions and payments and prepares your return. Don’t have the patience to sit through the process? Email your Form 16 and other details to taxassist@taxsmile.com.

For those who prefer one-on-one interactions, taxspanner.com sets up ‘Tax spanning stations’ across the country wherein you can interact with tax professionals in person and get your returns e-filed right in front of your eyes.

In most cases, the return preparation is free. You need to pay only when the return is ready for e-filing. Websites such as myitreturn.com makes even the return filing free for some simplistic cases. The more the heads of income, the more the charges.

Cleartax.in also allows you to file your returns for free if you adopt the ‘self e-filing’ approach. Discounts for group or bulk filing are offered by many websites too. Sometimes, brokerage houses through which you buy and sell shares may tie up with these websites and offer e-filing for free or at a discount to its customers. Ditto with banks. For instance, SBI has joined hands with Taxspanner to help its staff and customers e-file returns at preferential rates. So, do your homework on charges before you zero in on one.

Value-added services

While free filing is indeed enticing, the paid services come with their own value additions. Typically, the higher the charges, the more the value-add. For example, Taxsmile Gold (Rs 400 ) offers a digital signature for your returns which is not available under its Silver plan (Rs 250). What’s the advantage of a digital signature, you ask? Well, if you do, you can skip signing and sending your ITR V to the processing centre in Bangalore.

Taxsmile Premium (Rs 2,000) is even better, with year-round support from tax professionals for your tax related queries and advice on tax planning. Some websites also help NRIs and those who have foreign earnings file their returns. Charges on such foreign income related packages are generally higher.

Some others offer additional services on an individual basis too. You can use most websites to obtain a PAN card or change PAN details for a small fee. Outside of the package chosen, Myitreturn.com charges an additional Rs 99 if you want them to submit your ITR V, check its receipt at the processing centre or track your refund status. If you want to get your return reviewed by an expert, their charges range from Rs 399 to Rs 799.

Besides providing e-filing, digital signature and PAN card services, e-Lagaan also helps customers with the legal formalities involved in setting up businesses – be it in the form of a company, sole proprietorship, partnership or a trust.

Holds an edge

E-filing is not only convenient but also more advantageous than manual filing. It helps many employees who go on short stints abroad to file their returns on time, irrespective of their presence here.

Secondly, e-filing intermediaries such as the many portals that provide this service, serve as a digital storehouse for your tax records. They maintain digital copies of your returns each year, the ITR Form V, and other related documents, freeing you of the burden.

A third advantage is that the processing of refunds is faster for electronically filed returns. And finally, unlike manual filing, where confidentiality tends to take a back seat, e-filing is absolutely safe.

vardhini.c@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 13, 2013)
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