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Paper permanent fund dividend applications are now available but the state's improved online application system won't be up until Jan. 7.
Applicants are encouraged to use the online system, which Dividend Division Director Nanci Jones said cuts much of the hassle out of 2001's more involved online process.
"Last year you had to download a file in order to even read our application," Jones said. "That downloading took anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. It was cumbersome. A lot of people attempted (it), but they just didn't have that kind of time."
For the 2002 filing season, the online application has been streamlined.
"It's designed for the people who normally would fill out the first page of their application," Jones said. "It just asks you common-sense questions, just like when you're purchasing a ticket online."
First-time applicants, Alaskans who were ineligible last year, those who were out of state for more than 90 days in 2001 and people who are not in the state on the day they file can't use the online system, as their applications require additional documentation.
Jones hopes the number of online applications will climb to 100,000 from last year's total of about 50,000.
"My fingers are crossed," she said. "Last year ... a lot of people were discouraged. Hopefully, they'll give us another chance and find out that it's really easy."
The system uses high-security protection measures, and Jones said staff will check information on forms that appear to have typos.
"You put in the information and someone doesn't have to interpret your handwriting, so it's definitely more accurate," she said. "But for people who slip a digit, we'll be verifying from one year to the next to make sure it's logical."
Last year 619,563 people applied for dividends, which totaled $1,850.28 each. This year's dividend is expected to be down slightly from last year's total, Jones said, but the actual amount is still unknown.
Completed applications are due by 11:59 p.m. April 1. Online applications can be accessed at www.pfd.state.ak.us/PFD_ONLINE, and must be submitted by the deadline. Paper applications must be postmarked by that date. Online applicants must also print, sign and mail a verification form by April 1 to complete the application process.
Jones encouraged applicants not to delay filing their forms.
"Every year we get about 2,000 people who miss the deadline," she said. "People put it off to the last minute and it skips their mind."
Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.