These days, filing a U.S. income tax return is relatively convenient. In the past, filers had to deal with mountains of paper, mailing fees and potential processing delays. The process was often held hostage by the whims of postal or filing-service employees. Even simple tax situations often required the assistance of a professional tax preparation specialist. Such specialists typically charged hefty fees and kept significant proportions of their clients' tax refunds. Overall, the tax-filing system has improved markedly with the rise of Internet-based filing systems.
Of course, online tax preparation and filing still produces plenty of headaches. Many of the same organizations that helped Americans file their taxes during the second half of the 20th century remain actively engaged in the tax-preparation business today. Online tax-filing giants like H&R Block and TurboTax now account for a sizable proportion of the total tax-return volume that passes through the IRS each year. As with any massive undertaking, complications arise with some regularity.
One of the most troublesome of these complications is the requirement that tax filers use their "adjusted gross income" figure from the previous tax year as a password to log onto their current "e-filing" service. Virtually all of the tax preparation services that use the e-filing interface require their clients to take this step. Known as "AGI" figures, filers' adjusted gross incomes are not necessarily unique. After all, hundreds of millions of U.S. tax returns are produced every year. However, these numbers are distinctive enough to be deemed effective for use as de facto passwords.
If you're worried that you won't be able to find or remember your AGI figure from the previous year, you can circumvent your e-filing service's AGI requirement in one of several ways. For starters, you might have created a different password during a previous filing session. If you're returning to the same tax-filing service, you might be able to use its "lost password" feature to look up the unique password that you created the year before.
Alternatively, you may be able to use the PIN that you received from the IRS when you filed your taxes. Although this may not be entirely sufficient to log you in to your tax-filing interface, it should be adequate when used in conjunction with your old password. If your tax situation is straightforward, you may be able to find your AGI simply by looking at the "gross income" field on the W-2 form from your employer.