If you're gutsy enough to do your own tax return, take advantage of all the help available. Here are some good places to start:
- The IRS: Its website contains instructions, forms, tax tips, and calculators. It might not be the friendliest site to navigate, but you'll find tons of information.
- Books: "J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2012" (Wiley, 2011) is a handy resource.
- Software: In addition to their online offerings, the major tax-prep software programs—TurboTax ($30 to $100), H&R Block At Home ($20 to $80), and TaxACT ($22 to $55)—are available on CDs or can be downloaded from the companies' sites.
- Click around: Look for discounts at retailers like Amazon and Costco, as well as at your bank, credit union, investment company, or labor union.
- FreeFile: If your 2011 household adjusted gross income was no more than $57,000, you're eligible to use FreeFile from the IRS site. FreeFile lets you electronically prepare and file your federal return free using software from one of several online tax-prep services. It might cost something to prepare and file state returns.
- Online services: If you don't meet FreeFile eligibility, online services such as Express1040, FreetaxUSA, TaxACT, and TurboTax Federal Free Edition also offer free preparation and filing for relatively straightforward federal returns.
If you do plan to prepare your taxes online, take note of these helpful tips and traps to look out for. For example, since most don't charge you until you file, you can test several to see which delivers the greatest tax savings.
For those of you who still want the help of a professional see our full article about How to find a good tax preparer, plus these helpful tips from the IRS on what you need to know in order to get the most value for your tax-prep dollar.
For more from Consumer Reports experts on tax prep, software, deductions, refund anticipation loans, and more see our Consumer Reports' Money section.