Step-by-step guide to filing your income tax returns online

I had always wanted to file my income tax returns but the plethora of paperwork always discouraged me. Finding an agent who could stand in long queues at the income tax office of course, for a fee to file my returns was also not me.

But then friends also scared me saying not filing tax returns will put me in banks' bad books as and when I'd apply for a home loan. That was a real shocker for I am planning to buy a house and I need to put this tax record straight.

Not that I don't pay my taxes. It's only that I don't file my tax returns (Remember paying taxes and filing returns is not the same thing). Our company's accounts department very religiously deducts tax at source which they fondly call TDS and which also finds a mention on my salary slip. It's only that that I hate paperwork. Online banking, online news, online mutual fund investments is what I love. Internet, it seems, has made (or will make) an entire generation lazy. But then if I can also file my income tax returns online I am not complaining at all.

Welcome to the e-AGE. You can file your income tax returns online.

How do you go about it?

That's what I asked my friend who told me about e-filing of taxes. "It's really very simple," he said giving me a what-on-earth-were-you-doing-for-so-many-days-you-idiot kind of a look.

Visit the incometaxindia website and register as a new user. The 'new user' link is in the 'Login' section just below the image of the Indian tricolour, he specified, looking angrily into my eyes.

You will have to input five details inside the box provided on the form and click on the 'Register' button. The form asks you for your permanent account number (PAN) and other personal details.

"I hope you must be at least having your PAN," he kind of barked. "If you don't have one then even that can be sourced online." He was now furious as he was waiting for my response.

"I do have one," I said cowering a bit. "Good then," he sighed.

Once you click on the 'Register' button you will be taken to a form that will automatically have your address and other details (as submitted by you for getting a PAN). You will just have to put your own password, telephone number, e-mail and click on the 'Submit' button.

And you will be taken to a page that has links for e-filing your tax returns for the assessment year 2006-07 and 2007-08. For those who joined the party late here's what an assessment year is"

Assessment year is a period of 12 months starting from April 1 and ending on March 31 the following year. Previous year is the financial year immediately before the assessment year.

Income earned in the previous year is taxable in the assessment year.

Let's take an example to make it simple.

Let's take April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007 as the assessment year. The previous year corresponding to this assessment year will be April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006.

So the income earned in the previous year April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006 is taxable in the assessment year starting from April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007.

Similarly, income earned in the previous year April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007 is taxable in the assessment year starting from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008.

That's not all

Now let's say you click on e-filing for A.Y. 2007-08. You will be taken to a page from where you can download an excel utility that helps you file online income tax returns.

~ Choose which category you belong to (salaried employees with only salary income will have to download ITR-1).

~ Fill in the required data asked for in the excel sheet.

~ Save the excel file on your local machine.

~ Click on 'Submit return' link in the middle on the left hand side to upload the saved excel file to the income tax of India's server.

Still not through

Don't get bored yet. Though you may have spent a solid ten minutes reading this article now (I know it's very boring but useful too I surmise) it's not that time consuming when you do it online. After uploading excel file successfully a form will pop up in your computer's window. This is in acknowledgement that you have filed your returns online successfully. Take a print out of this form and fill in the verification part which duly needs to be posted to your nearest local income tax office.

Take due care that if you upload the file today then the income tax department should receive the verification form duly filled and signed in the next 15 days by post. If not you will have to go through the entire procedure again.

If you are already raising your eyebrows then here's a solution to it: digital signature. This is something that will make your e-filing income tax returns really paperless.

Digital signature is like your electronic identity that confirms that the person who has submitted all the details is really 'YOU'. Companies like Safe Scrypt will do it for you, again online and for a fee. As per the IT Act 2000 they are legally as valid as physically signed documents in any Indian court of law.

That's about it dear readers. Call it laziness or call it convenience. Filing your income tax returns is now really possible at the click of a mouse. I am going to file it as soon as I get my Form 16 and show to my friend that even I did it.

What's more you can file them anytime, anywhere; away from the prying eyes of sneaky colleagues and from within the confines of your home. Who said government offices work only 9 am to 5 pm. Online income tax returns can be filed even after 5 pm or at any time of the day or night.

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