Every year around this time, fear and panic begin to set in across the state for thousands of Marylanders, who realize that the tax deadline is approaching and they have yet to file their returns. Even in the best of circumstances, tax season can be a complex and confusing time, so my number one piece of advice for Marylanders is to calm down and take advantage of all the help and advice that is out their for them – free of charge – from their comptroller’s office.

Our agency prides itself on providing quality services to the taxpayers of Maryland to make this process as simple, efficient and painless as possible. So, as the April 15 tax filing deadline approaches, there are several items I’d like to highlight.

Again this year, I am encouraging Marylanders to electronically file their tax return. E-filing, the safest, fastest and easiest way to file taxes, offers many benefits. If you file electronically and choose direct deposit of your refund, we will transfer your refund to your bank account within days from the date your return is accepted and processed.

There are also advantages to e-filing if you owe money. By using direct debit, if you owe taxes and file electronically by the April 15 deadline, you can schedule your payment for as late as April 30. This gives you an extra two weeks with your money in the bank earning interest.

Last year, more than 1.6 million returns were filed electronically, a majority of all income tax returns and an all-time high for the state. This year, our goal is to set a new record and have at least 60 percent of all returns filed electronically. Not only is electronic filing safe and efficient for the taxpayer, but is also helps the state save money, over $1.60 per return, in processing costs. So whether you are getting a refund or owe money, electronic filing is the way to go.

Filing taxes can be very complicated and you should never feel like you have to guess at something or that you are on your own. My agency has 12 branch offices across the state, including Baltimore and Towson, where we offer all kinds of tax assistance. We’ll even prepare your state tax return for you and send it in at no charge. Across the state, our offices are open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and there will be special Saturday hours on April 12. If you are doing your own taxes at home, you can always reach out to us for answers by calling our help line, 1-800-MD-TAXES or visiting us on the Internet at, www.marylandtaxes.com.

Whether by phone, by e-mail or in person, all of our tax experts will be happy to answer your questions and help you find all the applicable tax credits and deductions you qualify for. If you do use a paid preparer, I urge you to use a licensed CPA, tax attorney or enrolled agent and not to fall prey to the misleading and dangerous marketing schemes used by those who only seek to enrich themselves at your expense. And again, whether you do your taxes yourself or use a preparer, I encourage you to file electronically.

Tax season may not always be the most pleasant time of the year, but it never has to be the most stressful. The staff of the comptroller of Maryland is ready and willing to assist you in anyway possible, so please take advantage of this public service.

Peter Franchot is the comptroller of Maryland.