updated 5/31/2006 3:36:34 PM ET 2006-05-31T19:36:34

There's no prize for filing the longest tax return, but General Electric Co. could probably beat any competition.

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The company filed a 24,000-page tax return to the Internal Revenue Service this month. If it were paper, it would stack up 8 feet high. But instead of sending boxes to the tax collectors, GE filed its return electronically — all 237 megabytes of it.

If GE can do it, so can thousands of other companies required for the first time this year to file electronically, the IRS said.

"Here we have what has historically been our largest filer, and they have stepped up and embraced what not all of the corporate sector has welcomed," said Bruce Ungar, deputy commissioner for the IRS' large and mid-sized business division.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric.)

Companies with assets over $50 million must file electronically this year. About 3,000 already have, most of them without a hitch. A few of them waited longer, and sometimes much longer, than an hour to receive verification from the IRS that the tax return arrived.

Ungar said the IRS expects at least 11,000 of the largest companies, and maybe as many as 20,000, will file electronically this year.

John Samuels, GE's senior tax counsel, said the company spent between $500,000 and $1 million developing a system allowing for electronic filing, but GE expects to save "many millions" by steering away from paper filing.

No longer do GE employees have to convert the company's electronic records into paper forms. Nor do IRS employees have to convert the company's paper filing into an electronic record. Both changes prevent mistakes along the way, Samuels said.

"Our return is audited every year, as it should be," he said.

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