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_ Apps available for iPad, iPhone and Android phone.

_ Live help available via phone.

The third most popular software also is simple and easy and has the added appeal of showing you images of actual tax forms at certain stages in the process. For taxpayers who are used to preparing returns on paper forms, being able to see a 1040 or a Schedule A may help ease the transition to electronic filing.

Like its rivals, the software can transfer key data from last year’s return even if it was prepared on another program.

TaxAct offers help answering questions via email and free phone help for those who buy the product. Free Edition users can email questions for free or purchase unlimited phone assistance for $7.95. Unlike some of the other free offerings, TaxAct offers forms for more complex returns in its free federal edition as well.

Like the others, a prepaid card is available. It can be loaded with the refund, minus the cost of the software. The card comes with a hefty $16.95 startup fee and charges $1.95 per ATM withdrawal.

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Before you pay for software, you should determine if you qualify to file your federal return for free. Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less in 2011 may choose software from 15 companies through the IRS Free File program. About 3 million people used Free File last year, but the IRS said 70 percent of taxpayers, or about 100 million, are eligible.

Free File software options include the most popular brands, TurboTax and H&R Block. Most of the participating companies also prepare state returns for free; some charge an additional fee. Details and links to the available software can be found at http://www.freefile.irs.gov.

It’s also possible to file simple federal returns for free, mainly 1040EZ forms, using the websites of TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, Liberty Tax Service’s e-Smart Tax and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. All charge a fee for state returns, ranging from $19.95 with Liberty’s e-Smart software to $27.95 with TurboTax.

One boon to using at-home software is that users can start and stop the process. This is particularly helpful for those who want to file early but are still waiting for W-2 and 1099 forms. Taxpayers can enter the details as their paperwork arrives, then file when their return is complete.

All of the major software options allow customers to start preparing their returns for free and only charge a fee when the return is filed. That makes it easier to compare different offerings to see which is the most comfortable to use.

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Online:

Free File program: http://www.freefile.irs.gov

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