Last-minute tax preparation help

Haven’t filed your taxes yet? You can still make the April 15 deadline with the help of any one of these programs. So gather your W-2s, receipts, and beverage of choice. There's no more denying that tax time has arrived.

Desktop software

Whether you hate the idea of entering financial data online or have multiple returns to prepare, you’ll find several desktop programs to choose between. The two biggies are H&R Block’s $60 At Home ( ) and Intuit’s $60 TurboTax Deluxe ( ).

There's no need to head to the store—you can download either of the programs online. Both include time-saving features you’ll appreciate in these final days. For example, you can import financial data from Quicken files as well as files saved using the Tax Exchange Format (.TXF). You can also import online W-2 information (if your employer provides it) as well as last year’s tax file.

TurboTax is our choice this year in part because of the excellent help it provides. The program’s Live Community is the best place to search for answers to questions about tax issues. Since the tax code change every year, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Also, you can prepare as many federal returns as you need to using the software.

If you’re already planning to enter data manually and would like a less expensive option, 2nd Story’s $10 TaxAct Deluxe Federal Edition ( ) provides adequate enough tools for many people’s needs.

Online tax preparation services

If you made less than $57,000 in 2009, you may not have to spend a dime to get help with your taxes. You probably qualify for free Web-based tax software through the government’s Free File program, which you can access only through the IRS Free File site. You can also self-prepare and e-file a 1040, 1040 A and 1040EZ return using forms at this site (you won’t find any state forms there, however).

In general, you’ll find Web-based tax preparation less expensive than desktop programs if you only have one return to prepare. Most services offer free versions, but unless your return is extremely straightforward, and doesn’t involve itemizing deductions, you’ll soon find yourself paying for something. We looked at H&R Block At Home Deluxe ( ), 2nd Story TaxAct Deluxe Federal Edition ( ), and Intuit TurboTax Deluxe Online ( ).

TurboTax Deluxe is our choice because of its polish and depth. It can import data from more institutions than any of the other services. It also gives you access to the excellent Live Community forums—treasure troves of tax help. The basic federal version starts at $30.

Going Mobile

If you live in California and have a very simple tax return, TurboTax SnapTax lets you prepare your taxes from the comfort of an iPhone. You snap a photo of your W-2 to enter info, answer a few questions, and then review the return and file electronically. The catch? You’ve got to be a Californian who’s earned $80,000 or less if you’re single (or $100,000 or less if you’re married and filing jointly); you don’t have dependents; you don’t own real estate; and all your income is accounted for with a W-2, interest, or unemployment. The $10 app includes a federal and California return as well as electronic filing.

Besides TurboTax SnapTax, the App Store offers a number of programs providing tax advice for this year or ways to track your expenses, deductions, and receipts for your 2010 return. Be sure to check out our Tax apps Essentials Collection for more suggestions.

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