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Do Your Federal Tax Return for Free

Cameron Huddleston, Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

It's that time of year again: tax season. You've probably started receiving the tax documents you need to prepare your return, and the IRS will start processing federal returns on January 31. So what are you waiting for?

Okay, so maybe you're not in a rush to tackle this daunting task. On the bright side, though, you might qualify to use tax software for free, which will make preparing your return much easier than filling out the forms without assistance.

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If your adjusted gross income was $58,000 or less in 2013, you may be eligible for the IRS Free File program. Fourteen companies including H&R Block, TaxACT and Intuit, owner of TurboTax, offer free federal tax preparation software and electronic filing through the program, and some even offer free preparation and filing of state income-tax returns. Each company has its own eligibility criteria (income, age, residency and so on), so you'll have to answer a few questions on the IRS.gov Web site to determine which software is available to you.

If you don't meet the income requirements but are comfortable doing your own taxes, you can use the free fillable forms on IRS.gov. These electronic versions of IRS paper forms do help with mathematical calculations but don't provide the step-by-step assistance you would get from tax preparation software. Because you can file the fillable forms electronically, you'll get your refund faster than you would if you file paper returns.

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Keep an eye out, though, for discounted tax software if you want the assistance it provides (at a fraction of the cost of hiring an accountant). Some banks and brokerages offer software discounts to customers. And coupon sites such as Coupon Cabin and Coupons.com often have coupon codes that can help you save money on tax software. Offers.com has a tax preparation savings center that has coupons and a table that compares features and pricing of the top tax preparation services. If you find a good coupon, use it soon because tax-prep coupons usually expire before April.