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File your taxes for free

Published January 29, 2012 10:04 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Preparing and filing your federal income tax return for free has never been easier. Here are the options:

H&R Block Free Edition • This is for taxpayers with simple returns. For more information, go to HERE.

Turbo Tax Free Edition • Tax-prep software company Intuit offers this option, also for fairly simple returns. Go to HERE for details.

In-store at Walmart • Select locations nationwide are offering free preparation of simple tax forms through a partnership with H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service, good only on 1040EZ forms. For more information, go to HERE.

The downside to these free private-sector programs is that they focus only on simple tax return preparation. If you have a more complicated return or itemize your deductions, you probably aren't going to qualify for the free help. Plus, the free options don't include state tax preparation.

But they do get a lot of people through the door. Companies often use free-filing programs as an opportunity to market other services, such as the state return preparation and filing, which cost money. Always compare prices among a handful of providers for the cost of all the services you'll need this season.

And don't forget that tax-preparation companies offer an array of fee-based services that aren't always a great idea. For example, you can elect to get a refund-anticipation loan at a high interest rate based on your anticipated refund. If you can wait a couple of weeks, you can get your money without giving anyone else part of it.

In addition to all the private-sector options, all Utah taxpayers can prepare and file their tax returns online directly with the Internal Revenue Service through its Free File program. The services provides electronic filing — and in many cases free tax preparation, too.

Free File comes in two formats: Traditional Free File and Fillable Forms.

Traditional Free File guides users through the process of preparing and filing a return. The option is provided through a public-private partnership between the IRS and a consortium of nearly two dozen tax software providers who make versions of their free-file products available exclusively at HERE.

A taxpayer must meet certain criteria to use Traditional Free File, such as having an adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less.

Anyone can use Fillable Forms, because there is no income limitation. Unlike the Traditional Free File, though, taxpayers aren't guided through their returns by software. They must fill out the forms online.

One word of caution about Fillable Forms. Because you won't have a software program guiding you through the tax-preparation process, there's no guide to help you take advantage of important tax credits or deductions. One of those commonly missed deductions is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can be worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to a low-income family.