STAMFORD, Conn. - Official Payments Corp., an electronic payment processor of government taxes and fees, announced that it will collect taxes for the state of Maryland.

Beginning next spring the state's taxpayers will be able to charge their year-2000 balances on their credit cards by calling Official Payments' toll-free telephone number or by visiting the company's Web site. They will also be able to make delinquent payments through the service as early as next month.

State comptroller William Donald Schaefer said the agreement would give taxpayers more flexibility. The new system will allow people to make payments "from the convenience of their home or office - 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Taxpayers will be charged a processing fee of 2.5%, which will be billed to their credit card accounts.

Official Payments accepts American Express, Discover Card, and MasterCard. Cardholders registered in reward programs may earn points by paying their taxes, depending on their program.

"This isn't a matter of replacing traditional tax payment methods," said Bruce J. Zanca, senior vice president of communications and administration for Official Payments. "It's about giving people choices."

Official Payments collected $535 million in federal income taxes for the tax year 1999.

In addition to the Internal Revenue Service, the company's clients include the District of Columbia and the governments of Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.

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