Texas Townspeople Get “Comfort-able” With Their Taxes

Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards (L), IRS representative Kenneth Vargas (R) and Microsoft product manager Gayle Cruise break a large pencil to open the Microsoft TaxSaver center in downtown Comfort, TX.

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 3, 2000 — They don’t call Comfort the

Comfort itself has plenty of character, too. More than 100 historic buildings, many dating back to the 1800s, maintain rich ties to the past. Most of Comfort’s residents were born and raised in this community, and many are descendants of the original
German immigrants who first settled there 150 years ago. There’s a monument in Comfort that’s one of only half a dozen places in the country where the flag flies at half-mast constantly, and nearby, you’ll find the largest cemetery of Texas Rangers anywhere.

Scenery and history by themselves could easily justify Comfort’s reputation for quaint charm, but the laid-back pace of the populace positively clinches it.

“We like to say we’re more comfortable in Comfort,”
says G.P. Shryer, president of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce.
“If I wanted to know what was happening around town, I’d walk down to the barber shop. Of course, the shop may not be open every day, or maybe only half of the two barbers might be there because one of them went to Terlingua for the Chili Cook-Off.”

Adds Marti Ashcraft, the Chamber’s vice president:
“In Comfort, the only thing you rush to do is get your video back by 6 o’clock.”

Life’s about to get even more comfortable in Comfort. This small town located 40 minutes northwest of San Antonio has been
by the Microsoft TaxSaver team to demonstrate just how relaxed the 1999 tax season can be. Microsoft hopes that sponsoring the 10-week tax season for an entire town will help raise comfort levels among consumers nationwide about using software to prepare and file their personal income taxes.

Comfort Embraces the Tax Season

Microsoft is outfitting Comfort with two do-it-yourself tax preparation and filing centers — one at the high school and one at the local community center — where area residents can pick up free copies of TaxSaver Federal Deluxe, Microsoft’s new electronic tax preparation software.

“I’ve got mine!”
says Shryer, the 40-year-old proprietor of Wilson Clements, an antiques and gift store in Comfort that specializes in imports from southern Mexico.

From today’s kick-off through midnight on April 17, Comfort-area citizens can also get on-site help using the software from volunteers with the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Tax Practitioners, participate in a series of educational seminars led by various tax authorities, and take advantage of electronic filing — all at no charge.

That’s welcome news for the easygoing citizens of Comfort, who number about 2,000 in town and 8,000 when you count all the outlying ranchers who have Comfort mailing addresses. Shryer will be among the Comfort residents to give TaxSaver Deluxe a whirl. He figures the
campaign will also draw takers from nearby communities — like the 12,000 folks who drop in for the annual
“Christmas in Comfort”
event from Waring, Center Point, Kerrville, Boerne and Fredericksburg.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for Comfort and the surrounding communities,”
says Ashcraft, who helps run King’s Salvage, a family-owned scrap metal recycling business in Comfort.
“TaxSaver will help dissipate some of the fear that people have with computers, and the fear they have of the IRS and the fear they have of new tax laws that they don’t know anything about.”

That’s exactly what Microsoft hopes will happen, in Comfort and across the nation. To make the tax preparation and filing process as painless as possible, Microsoft has packed TaxSaver Federal Deluxe with a wealth of resources that include simple Step-by-Step Interview guidance for a complete and accurate return, a full set of IRS forms, tax law information, expert advice and tips for saving money, sophisticated tax-planning tools, best-selling on-screen tax guides (for example, J.K. Lasser’s
“Your Income Tax 2000”
“How to Pay Zero Taxes”
), more than 40 informative videos and one free electronic filing.

Benefits for All Types of Filers

A Comfort resident for 30 years, Ashcraft finds the idea of using the TaxSaver software appealing. Except for one occasion seven years ago — when she paid someone $25 to file her return electronically so she’d get a quick refund — Ashcraft, 38, has always prepared her taxes by hand. What’s she looking forward to this year?

“No more flipping back and forth between forms, no more figuring out ‘What did they tell me to do on this line?’ and no more checking the wrong box,”
says Ashcraft, who served as emcee at today’s kick-off ceremony.

Ashcraft notes that her tax circumstances became a bit more complicated after she and her husband blended their families a while back. One year, they filed separately; the subsequent year, they filed jointly — and worried whether they’d done everything right. Although she recalls that she figured out her taxes at least seven different ways and double-checked herself, her return prompted a letter from the IRS, which “regretted to inform her” that she shouldn’t expect as much money back as she hoped. This year, she says, TaxSaver will tell her whether filing separately or together is more to her family’s benefit. Better, she adds, to hear it from software than the IRS.

To highlight various tax scenarios, Ashcraft’s household will be one of several featured Comfort families during the TaxTown campaign. These families will have the added benefit of a certified public accountant (CPA) to verify their returns as accurate. Besides Ashcraft’s representative group (married with children), the other Comfort residents featured will be retired couples, single people and single parents.

“This effort is trying to communicate that it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in, this TaxSaver software will be applicable to your situation and can help you,”
Ashcraft says.

IRS Wishes Comfort Residents Many Happy Returns

The TaxSaver program in Comfort has earned the blessing of the Internal Revenue Service, which is a big fan of online filing. The IRS expects to receive more than 33 million tax returns electronically this year — approximately a quarter of the total number of returns. The agency cites faster processing of tax returns, prompter refunds, lower costs and greater accuracy as excellent reasons to encourage the shift from pencils and calculators to electronic tax solutions.

By 2003, the IRS hopes 40 percent of all tax returns will be filed online, and Congress has set the ambitious goal for 80 percent of returns to be filed electronically by 2007.

Microsoft hopes that 100 percent of Comfort’s residents will see fit to file electronically this year, setting a
example for the rest of the country. Comfort’s zeal for the campaign was clearly evident on the faces of the cheerleaders and high school band members who entertained the crowd at today’s pep rally, and in the comments of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who joined Ashcraft and others as featured speakers at the kickoff.

“We think it’s wonderful that Microsoft picked our little town for this program,”
says Ashcraft.
“They’ve had a lot of enthusiasm for it from the beginning, and people in Comfort are enthusiastic, too. And of course, getting a smidgen of national attention is always good for commerce.”

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