Technology has made it easier to pay state business taxes—and the state has made it easier to accept them. Nearly a year after the state’s official Electronic Filing system (ELF) was established last March, for example, the state Department of Revenue (DOR) has recently made it possible for Macintosh computer users to access ELF.

Taxpayers now also have their choice of Internet browsers to use with the program, including Netscape 4.61 or Internet Explorer 4.01 or higher.

DOR will soon offer alternate payment options such as credit cards.

Filing state business taxes electronically is catching on. DOR reports that as of December, more than 1,800 state businesses were filing electronically. Another 4,200 businesses are in the registration process.

Larry Siminski, owner of Olympia accounting firm Siminski and Associates, says he has been recommending the system to other businesses—and not just because Siminski’s 20-year-old firm of 11 was one of the Department’s test cases when the program was being tried out.

“The purpose of the demonstration was to show that professionals can help even at remote sites and the taxpayer still controls the transaction,” Siminski says. “We prepared the client’s return and sent the completed return to the client/taxpayer for payment.”

Filing electronically is easier than the old pen-and-paper method, Siminski says.

“A couple of clicks with the mouse and a few key strokes to get the data and passwords in and you are done,” he says. “It removes the doubt that you performed the calculations correctly, and you know it has been filed and paid. You don’t have to delegate the filing, and you don’t have to rely on the mail, nor staff to get it there.”

The down side to electronic filing is that you need relatively new computer equipment and you need to be computer literate, Siminski says. If you don’t have either of these qualifications, electronic filing may not be for you.

Siminski says he sees paying taxes electronically as part of the Internet wave of the future.

“I believe that 70 percent of accounting transactions for paying and receiving billing will occur over the Internet within the next five years,” Siminski says. “The potentials for efficiencies will make it far too attractive to ignore. ELF has its advantage, but more importantly, it is an easy step to learn the future of commerce with a trusted site.”

Washington, the first state in the nation to offer electronic filing, spent $1.2 million to implement the program. It hopes its investment will save the state money in the long run.

DOR estimates 13 percent of the two million returns filed annually contain errors. By allowing businesses to file taxes electronically, DOR hopes to streamline the paper returns coming into Olympia and cope with the additional 25,000 new businesses annually while its staffing levels remain flat.

To find out if you can use ELF, visit the Department’s website at http://dor.wa.gov or call toll-free (877) FILE ELF or (877) 345-3353.

By Richard Sypher, Business Examiner staff