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Speed, convenience by filing taxes online

March 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most of us dread doing our income taxes, especially if we owe the IRS. The majority of taxpayers pay someone to prepare their returns. But if you're looking for ways to save money, the government allows you to prepare and file for free.

If your tax returns aren't complicated and you're somewhat computer savvy, you can file your taxes for free on the Internal Revenue Service website. And you might even get your refund back sooner.

Like most people, Christine Stangarone used to hire a tax preparer, but this year she decided to go it alone.

"I was trying to minimize costs and figure out how I could do it on my own," said Stangarone.

Her first stop: the government website FreeFile.IRS.gov. Anyone can use it to prepare and file federal tax forms at no cost. And, Consumer Reports explains, for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is $58,000 or less, it offers a lot more free help.

"The IRS has partnered with private companies that offer tax software to walk you through your federal returns," said Tobie Stanger, a Consumer Reports senior editor.

Free File lists software programs from all the big companies, including H&R Block and TurboTax.

Stanger worked with Christine to see how easy they are to use. Not surprisingly, it pays to enter data carefully. Stanger spotted a mistake she made that could have cost her plenty.

"Even a small mistake can make a difference in what you get back, so you have to be careful," said Stanger. "But all the programs will let you stop, check things, and have things perfect before you file."

All the programs Consumer Reports tried through the Free File website were fairly simple.

"If you don't need to itemize -- and about 70 percent of Americans don't -- this is a fairly straightforward process," said Stanger.

And it's fast. Christine was finished preparing her returns and filing them for free in about an hour.

Consumer Reports says there's another good reason to prepare and file your taxes online: Your refund could be processed in just 10 days, compared with four to six weeks for mailed returns.

Tuesday on Eyewitness News, beginning at 4 p.m., a tax tip hotline will be open. There will be a team of accountants to answer your tax questions during the 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts.