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Taxes

Time to Consider E-Filing Taxes

Printed tax forms are no longer mailed to taxpayers.

Still waiting for your tax forms to arrive in the mail? Don’t. This is the first tax filing season that tax packages will not be mailed to individuals and businesses. You can pick up paper copies at participating post offices or libraries or download tax forms and instructions at www.irs.gov. But perhaps the change will be just the incentive you need to join the e-crowd: Nearly 100 million taxpayers prepared and filed their taxes electronically last year. That means e-filing is now the norm.

Sign up for Tax Tips in your e-mail throughout the filing season

An e-filed return means a faster refund. Taxpayers who combine e-file and direct deposit can get their refunds in as few as ten days. Nearly 75% of all taxpayers receive a refund, and last year the average refund was about $2,900.

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If your income for 2010 is $58,000 or less (single or married) -- which covers about 70% of all Americans -- you can prepare and file your taxes for free through IRS.gov. Just click on “free file” and choose from among 20 private tax-software companies; some also offer free state income-tax filing.

If your income is too high to qualify for free file or if your tax situation is complicated, you may want to buy one of the premium tax-preparation programs that leads you through an interview process and fills in your answers on the appropriate tax forms.

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Or consider hiring a tax pro. Ask friends and colleagues for a referral. Ideally, you want someone with a history of preparing returns for people in situations similar to yours. Check out the person’s qualifications, and ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources to keep up with the ever-changing tax rules. Ask about the preparer’s fees, and avoid anyone who charges based on a percentage of your refund or promises larger refunds than other preparers. Also ask about the preparer’s accessibility in case a question arises after your return is filed.

On the other hand, if your return is very simple, you may be able to phone it in. That’s right. TurboTax offers a new SnapTax mobile phone application that allows Android and iPhone users to file the simplest 1040EZ form. Just download the free app; use your phone’s camera to snap a photo of your W-2 form; and follow a few simple prompts. You’ll be charged a total of $14.99 to file one federal and one state return.

The IRS also unveiled its own phone app this year. Smart-phone users can check the status of their tax refund at IRS2Go by supplying their Social Security number, filing status and the amount of their expected refund. You can download the app for free from the Apple store or Android marketplace.

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