Consumer Reports: Tax Tips for E-Filers

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If you're among the millions of converts to do-it-yourself tax software, you might be ready for the next step: Online tax preparation. There are dozens of Web-based programs that will help you electronically prepare, store and file your tax returns, either free or for a relatively modest charge.

Fortunately, all of those services are easy to try. Most don't charge you anything until you file. If you have the time and inclination, you can test as many as you'd like to see which one delivers the greatest tax savings. With some you might have to wade through solicitations to upgrade to pricier services. (Though the sites are secure, you might want to wait until you're ready to file before putting in your Social Security number.) Also consider these tips:

Check which of the IRS forms and schedules the site supports. Most sites provide Form 1040 and Schedule A for itemized deductions, but they might not handle more specialized forms. For example, does not include Form 1040-SS, the U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return, or Form 2210, Underpayment of Estimated Tax.

Make sure the site can handle your state taxes. At, for example, you pay $19.95 to prepare and file a federal and state return, but it only supports tax returns for 17 states.

Check the site's price list. Many sites charge to send you a printed copy of your return. Some charge for filing an extension. And prices for online tax prep can go up closer to filing deadlines.

Consider the cost of help. Most services provide e-mail support for basic tax questions. If you don't think that will be enough, look for a service that offers inexpensive phone support.



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