Get help with your taxes -- absolutely free

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You don't have to pay to get your taxes done. These IRS-sponsored programs can help you prepare and file your taxes at no charge:

Free File allows anyone who earned $56,000 or less in 2008 to use tax preparation software that makes it easy to prepare and file returns online. It walks you through the process, does all the math, checks for errors and directly deposits your refund in as little as 10 days. To get started, just go to the Free File Web site.

Free File Fillable Forms allows anyone, regardless of income, to prepare and submit forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ online. The only drawback is that the forms don't come with the same, sophisticated tax software, so users have to read the instructions and do the math on their own.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides personal counseling and tax preparation for taxpayers with incomes of $40,000 or less, usually at local schools or community centers. To find a VITA site near you, call 1-800-829-1040.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly puts taxpayers 60 and older in touch with trained volunteers from nonprofit organizations that help you fill out all the forms. For more information, call 1-800-829-1040.

The AARP's Tax-Aide program is the biggest participant in Tax Counseling for the Elderly. It operates from Feb. 1 through April 15, providing one-on-one counseling at 9,000 locations across the country as well as assistance over the phone and Internet. For more information, call the AARP at 1-888-227-7669 or visit Tax-Aide on the Web.

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