Like most people, Christine Stangarone used to hire a tax preparer, but this year she decided to go it alone.
Christine says, "I was trying to minimize costs and figure out how I could do it on my own."
Her first stop: this government website, Free-File-dot-IRS-dot-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.
Tobie Stanger with Consumer Reports says, "The IRS has partnered with private companies that offer tax software to walk you through your federal returns."
Free File lists software programs from all the big companies, including H and R Block and TurboTax. Tobie 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.
Tobie says, "Look at that! A thousand dollars!"
She goes on to say, "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.
Tobie explains, "If you don't need to itemize -- and about 70 percent of Americans don't -- this is a fairly straightforward process."
And it's fast. Christine was finished preparing her returns and filing them for free in about an hour.
Another advantage of the online process... your refund could be processed in just 10 days, compared with four to six weeks for mailed returns.
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