Free Tax Help

FRESNO, Calif.

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."

Her first stop: this government website,

Anyone can use it to prepare and file federal tax forms at no cost. And consumer reports explains, for taxpayer s 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," Tobie Stanger said.

Free file lists software programs from all the big companies, including h and r block and Turbotax. Stanger worked with Christine to see how easy they are to use.

Not surprisingly, it pays to enter data carefully. Christine spotted a mistake she made that could have cost her plenty.

"Look at that! A thousand dollars!" Stanger said.

"Even a small mistake can make a difference in what you get back, so you have to be careful. 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," Stanger said.

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 ten days, compared with four to six weeks for mailed returns.

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