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Tax sites handle last-minute crunch

Major tax sites appeared to be doing OK Tuesday, as the deadline loomed to file returns.

Major tax sites appeared to be holding up under pressure from last-minute filers Tuesday, with a record number of Americans expected to complete the annual chore online.

Web sites for the IRS and TurboTax, the online tax preparation service run by market leader Intuit, were operating without glitches as of midday Tuesday. Portions of the online tax preparation site for rival H&R Block were intermittently unavailable, but all "page not found" errors were resolved on the second try.

H&R Block spokesman Tom Linafelt said all portions of the company's Web site were accessible as of Tuesday afternoon. "We haven't had any capacity issues at this point," he said.

Both Block and Intuit declined to provide recent traffic numbers, but both expect substantial increases in use of online preparation services this year. The boost is due in part to the Free File Alliance, an IRS-supported initiative to provide free online tax preparation services to low-income taxpayers.

Inuit spokesman Scott Gulbransen said traffic on the TurboTax site had been brisk through last weekend, and that the service was holding up fine as of Monday night. "Last night, during our peak time, page loads were going just as fast as they did during the slower times," he said.

Linafelt said traffic on the Block site peaked around 7:30 Pacific Daylight Time Monday, but that the company expected a faster build-up Tuesday, as filers stare down the midnight deadline. "We're going to break our internal records in terms of numbers of online users," he said.

The latest figures from the IRS had more than 8 million taxpayers filing online as of the last week of March, a 27 percent increase over last year's figures. Market researcher NPD found that retail sales of tax software were up 6 percent year-over-year as of Feb. 28, from 5.8 million units in 2002 to 6.2 million this year. Revenue was up 13 percent, from $180 million to $204 million.