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E-Tax-paying Comes of Age

The Web measuring outfits are reporting big jumps in the number of visitors to tax sites, and as if on cue, financial software company Intuit Inc. reported second-quarter (ending Jan. 31) revenues up 20 percent while raising its revenue forecast for fiscal 2002.

On a GAAP basis, Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit reported net income of $119.9 million, or 55 cents per share, compared to $26.6 million, or 12 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

And it's no wonder the company raised its guidance. People are flocking to tax sites, and Intuit said that "more customers are using our Web-based tax solutions."

Nielsen//NetRatings said that consumers looking to plan their finances and taxes for the year are flocking to such sites as Taxact.com, TurboTax.com, IRS.gov, Intuit.com and HRBlock.com.

Taxact.com was the fastest growing such site, drawing more than one million visitors in January, the measurement firm said. Traffic to TurboTax.com nearly tripled as more than 1.9 million surfers visited the site last month, as compared to 509,000 visitors in December 2001. And Internet users visited IRS.gov in droves as the site attracted more than 6.2 million unique visitors in January 2002, increasing 273 percent.

Traffic to Intuit.com surged 240 percent to nearly 3.5 million, while visitors to HRBlock.com spiked 221 percent to more than 1.5 million surfers.

"The popularity of these (tax) sites shows how American Internet users have come to rely on the Web as a planning and organization tool, helping to improve their overall quality of life," said Jarvis Mak, senior Internet media analyst at NetRatings.

And Intuit, which markets Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax, is hoping to capitalize on the increased reliance on electronic filing.

"As a result of the solid quarter and our confidence in the fundamentals driving our growth, we're raising our guidance for pro forma operating income for fiscal 2002 by $20 million to the $300 million to $310 million range," said Steve Bennett, Intuit's president and chief executive officer. "This is on top of the $5 million annual guidance increase we announced last quarter."

Revenue from Intuit's professional tax business increased 28 percent over last year's second quarter, the company said.

Deals such as the one signed in December with VeriSign and in January with Yahoo! also will help.

Another measurement company, Jupiter Media Metrix, said the top gaining government site, and also the top gaining property overall for January, was IRS.gov, which increased 275 percent to 7.5 million unique visitors.

"Similar to previous years, the annual rush to seek tax information online has hit full stride during January," said Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research, Jupiter Media Metrix. "It appears that some governmental sites, such as IRS.gov, having been preparing for the anticipated onslaught of inquiries by offering more features and making their Web sites more user-friendly."