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Tax preparation software moves into mobility

Mardi Gras 2012 is over. Now, if you haven't already done so, it's time to start thinking about doing your taxes. That's the boat I'm in, anyway, but as it turns out, I'm a dinosaur.

For the past several years, the process of filing my federal return always started with a trip to the office supply store to buy a copy of the leading tax preparation software.

I've always scoffed at online filing, but now it appears I'm not only behind the curve but poorer as a result. Installing tax preparation software on your PC is not only unnecessary, it's more expensive!

Leading online products are now as robust as PC-installed versions. In fact, at least one company has stopped offering its software both on optical media and as a download.

The realization that I've been throwing away money has shaken my brand loyalty. Perhaps it's time for a change. You see spots on TV claiming you can file for free. I assumed there was a catch, but now I've discovered in many cases it's true.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for example, offers a program called Free File. If you meet the eligibility requirements (adjusted gross income under $57,000), you can prepare and e-file your federal return for free. Partner software companies make their products available through the IRS. Some even support state tax returns. If your adjusted gross exceeds the maximum, you can still use the IRS's online forms and e-file for free. For more information, visit

You might also want to become acquainted with TaxACT, who offers Free Federal Edition. The company's TV spot with "Mama," the cab driver, reminds me of an ad for hemmorhroid cream, but reports say TaxACT's free version gives you access to most of the forms and schedules provided by its paid versions. Among free tax preparation sites, this is somewhat unusual.

Since most sites only ask for money when it's time to print or e-file your return, you can easily compare TaxACT against the #1 and #2 offerings (Intuit's Turbo Tax Federal Free Edition and H&R Block at Home) to see which best suits your needs.

The big change in tax preparation software this year, however, is mobility. The major players all have apps for the iPhone. Some also have Android versions, and Turbo Tax and H&R Block even have iPad-optimized offerings.

Turbo Tax's SnapTax app even allows you to p
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