The Internal Revenue Service today reported that over 2 million Americans have taken advantage of the tax help offered on its website,

Taxpayers can easily and instantly file online using the provided free software, which facilitates the preparation and calculation of returns.

For additional help and advice, visit the Fool's Tax Center (also free!).

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Halliburton Charges Into Iraq

A division of Halliburton(NYSE: HAL) named Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work in Iraq. The size of the contract was not disclosed, but estimates put it near $1 billion.

For now, Halliburton's KBR unit will douse oil fires in Iraq and repair the country's weakened or damaged oil production infrastructure, where possible. Responsibilities after the war are yet to be divvied out. Halliburton is also working with the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and other countries under a 10-year contract from the Pentagon awarded in December 2001.

Halliburton is the first of many U.S. corporations that will surely be asked to help, and profit from, the rebuilding of Iraq. It is an especially auspicious first awardee, however, because Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton until 2000. Upon entering the vice president's office, Cheney divested himself of his holdings, although he reportedly still receives about $1 million a year in compensation from the company.

Halliburton claims to have won the first Iraq contract because it was the only firm able to launch its services on short notice. Rebuilding Iraq will eventually result in contracts with a diverse group of U.S. companies, including those in building and highway construction, water, electricity, health, transportation, farming, and food. But the oil industry stands to benefit most.

With 112 billion proven barrels, Iraq has more known oil reserves than any other country in the world, aside from Saudi Arabia. Plus, 90% of the war-torn country has not yet been explored for oil. The oil belongs to the Iraqis, as Bush states, but U.S. companies are likely to be awarded contracts to make the industry "go" again.

Quote of Note

"I don't read no papers, and I don't listen to the radio, either. I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don't need to read about it." -- Walter Brennan (1894-1974), actor

My Pension Plan Ate My Money!

If you think you've had problems with your retirement account, consider the tale of Simon Kirby.

In 1995, the U.K. resident enrolled in a pension plan. Although he contributed a total of 3,227 pounds, his account is now worth only 1,700 pounds. While that may not seem all that unusual these days, he claims fully half his contributions were taken as fees by Allied Dunbar (which was acquired by Zurich Financial Services in 1998).

Mr. Kirby documents his experiences in hilarious fashion on his website, He's become somewhat of a mini-celebrity as he continues to dig for answers, receiving emails from around the world and press coverage from The Guardian and The Telegraph.

His site contains a slideshow presentation -- titled "My Allied/Dunbar Pension Isn't Very Good" -- that summarizes his pain and progress, and even contains recordings of his telephone conversations with some of Allied Dunbar's staff. One advisor actually blamed the mess on the financial media, saying, "The press always have this image of 'Commission-Greedy Salesmen.' ... They are really responsible for what has gone on." Another blamed the account's performance on the bear market.

Kirby also ponders the things he could have done with the fees that were taken out of his account: Fly from London to Rome 178 times, for instance, or perform 107 cataract operations for poor villagers in India.

For its part, Zurich/Allied Dunbar says the fee structure was fully explained to Kirby, and that it was commonplace at the time he bought the pension. The plan takes 65% of contributions over the first two years, then "compensates" by enhancing contributions by 5% each year. According to Kirby, it would take until 2022 to recoup the upfront charges in just simple cash terms, and -- when considering compound interest -- well past when Bede the Venerable predicted the world would end (2076).

Perhaps Kirby's efforts have had some positive effects: The Telegraph reports that the particular fee method has been scrapped and replaced by one that charges a flat 1% per year, plus a monthly "policy fee."

Simon Kirby, Zurich/Allied Dunbar, and everyone else would do well to peruse our Retirement Center. There they'll find information and advice on everything from pension plans to IRAs to annuities to 401(k)s and 403(b)s. There's even a section on fees.

Shameless Plug: Open an IRA Before April 15

Should you open a Roth or traditional IRA? Why open either? Two reasons: (1) compound interest and (2) tax savings. Plus, did you know you have until April 15 to receive 2002 tax savings? For more details, read on in our IRA Center.

Showtime at the Apollo

If you've been schooled by the market, maybe you need a new teacher.

For-profit post-secondary schools have been hot lately, and few of the sector's sizzling stocks have blazed as high and fast as Apollo Group(Nasdaq: APOL). Remember when the market peaked three years ago? Its shares have quadrupled since then.

Apollo's stock climbed so quickly that it declared seven stock splits over the last eight years. The company hasn't skimped on capital gains its fundamentals couldn't keep -- it has achieved 30% in annualized earnings growth over the past five years.

With Apollo set to report on Thursday, now's a good time to ask why this company has gone to the head of class while so many other equities have flunked out.

As the parent company of the popular Web-based University of Phoenix Online(Nasdaq: UOPX), Apollo has been the beneficiary of a workplace in flux. From displaced employees wanting to learn new career skills to companies attempting to retool their existing workforce, Apollo has been the fortunate beneficiary of the hunger for vocational know-how.

But with the stock trading at nearly 50 times trailing earnings, this star pupil has priced itself out of reach in a sobered market. If you want an alternative to this teacher's pet, other niche players are worth a look and can be had at cheaper prices.

Corinthian Colleges (Nasdaq: COCO) has actually grown earnings at a faster clip than Apollo, yet it's fetching a more reasonable 35 times trailing earnings. The stock has had a good run since its profile in The Motley Fool Select a year and a half ago, but the upside exists if Apollo continues to fetch those hefty premiums. Other peers, such as DeVry(NYSE: DV) and Strayer Education(Nasdaq: STRA), offer cheaper multiples, but at the expense of slower growth rates.

While Apollo's guidance will move all of the players one way or the other, take a look around. This is a class with class.

Discussion Board of the Day: Paying for College

Are you looking for a career change and worried about paying for school? Have you looked into the Apollo, Corinthian, DeVry, Strayer, or other institutions of post-secondary instruction? Do you want to learn more about paying for your kids' education? All this and more -- in the Paying For College discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Shares of the nation's largest disability insurer, UnumProvident(NYSE: UNM), jumped 22% on news that it resolved SEC concerns over its reported financials. The company will restate three years of earnings, lowering income for 2000-2002 by $29.1 million and EPS by $0.10 in 2000 and $0.16 in 2001, but bumping EPS by $0.14 for 2002. Unum may now be able to raise money to shore up its balance sheet because the SEC cloud no longer jeopardizes its debt rating. Shares finished today at $9.91, down over two-thirds from their 52-week high.

Telecom giant Cable & Wireless(NYSE: CWP) vaulted as much as 24% on news that it settled with the U.K. tax office and will pay $598 million. This is good news because that's only a quarter of the amount the company had in escrow to cover the tax liability. It can now use that cash to meet other obligations. Shares closed today at $3.49, between a 52-week range of $1.91 to $10.04.

Quick-service restaurant company AFC Enterprises(Nasdaq: AFCE) lost its lunch today, dropping over 30%. It announced that it would restate results for 2001 and 2002 and not file its year 2002 annual report Form 10-K by the March 31 deadline. Never a good sign. AFC is known for trade names Seattle's Best, Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits, Church's Chicken, and Cinnabon, among others.

Large British specialty chemical and paints company Imperial Chemical Industries(NYSE: ICI) warned that Q1 earnings would be off by 24%, corroding its NYSE ADRs by 38% to their lowest levels since 1988. It attributed the drop to higher raw-materials costs and problems implementing a supply system at one division. CEO Brendan O'Neill reportedly told Dow Jones that the lower profit estimate was "a problem, not a crisis."

And Finally...

Today on

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Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim