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Free Tax Help Is Available If You Look

By JOSEPH PISANI

Free tax help is available, and it's not only for those in financial need.

Some organizations offer free services regardless of how much you earn. AARP, the nonprofit organization that advocates for people over 50, has relaxed income requirements for who can receive free tax preparation assistance and also helps people of different ages. Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service offers free tax advice and basic online filing, regardless of income.

For taxpayers who earn under a certain amount each year, the free offers are sweeter. The IRS provides free in-person federal tax preparation as well as free brand name online tax preparation.

That said, those options are best for people with uncomplicated finances. If you're running a small business or own investment property, you will be better off hiring a professional.

Here's where to find free tax help:

FREE FACE-TO-FACE FILING:

If you want to sit down with a tax preparer, there are a couple of options:

AARP offers free federal and state tax preparation for people with "moderate incomes," says Bonnie Speedy, the national director of the organization's Tax-Aide program. But it doesn't have any strict restrictions. A person making more than $100,000 a year may be asked to hire a professional rather than use an AARP volunteer, says Speedy. But if the person has an income over $100,000 because of an early retirement account withdrawal, they'll gladly help, says Speedy.

AARP will file taxes for younger people too. "We've helped college students file their taxes," says Speedy. And you don't have to be a paying member of the organization. AARP's tax services are available at about 6,000 locations around the county, usually in libraries, hospitals or senior centers. You can find a location near you on www.aarp.org . AARP has about 36,000 volunteers that are trained and tested, says Speedy, who is also a volunteer tax preparer.

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