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Taxes made easy, especially if you don't have to do them yourself

For several years now, more than I can remember, I've used a software program to file my taxes.

I am by no means a tax expert, but my father always did his taxes, albeit while cussing and throwing things. So, how hard could it be?

Harder than I thought, at first. The first year of marriage my husband and I did it together and got audited.

The second year of our marriage, we went to a tax expert and paid out the wazoo.

Then after a few years of cussing and throwing things, I discovered tax preparation software and truly believed I was doing something illegal.

Nothing that simple could be blessed by the Internal Revenue Service.

Let me point out right here that my husband has never uttered a word of discouragement or protest. Never has he demanded to take over that annual, onerous task.

But after I discovered tax software, I asked my sister, a former tax preparer, to look over the results, and she said they looked good.

Her words released shackles from my brain and nervous system. I was set free. When I discovered how easy it is to file electronically, I performed a better tango than the performers on Dancing With the Stars. I had the refund spent before my husband realized it was in the bank.

The word must have gotten out because now people with an adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less can access free software for federal returns and e-filing on several Web sites. (State returns are not free.)

Filing electronically gets returns to the IRS faster and refunds get to your bank account within a few days. Plus, the IRS finds fewer errors, and it is cheaper to process electronic filings. It's become quite popular. The IRS said 31 million of the 132 million taxpayers who filed last year chose to e-file. That's a 19.3 percent increase since 2008.

I've had only minor problems when I chose to import some of my bank statements or investments. Numbers changed from one location to another, and it took me forever to figure out what happened.

Still, I'll take the software and e-filing over the paper method any day.

But to e-file or use the easier software, someone has to know how to use a computer and have access to one. For a lot of people, neither is possible.

For taxpayers with low to moderate incomes and for those 60 and older, the AARP Tax-Aide program offers free one-on-one counseling, telephone assistance and Internet help in completing tax forms. Locally, the service is offered about four hours twice a week at libraries, the Senior Citizen Center and the Bell House.

Martha McFarland, director of the Bell House Senior Citizens Center, said three to four preparers are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And folks are taking advantage of it. "There were 12 or 13 here today," she said Tuesday.

At the Northside Branch of the Lexington Public Library, Lori Poole, circulation supervisor, said folks form a line before the doors open. "It's limited to the first 20 people," she said. "It's rare that we still have slots available at 11 a.m."

Check around. There are plenty of agencies willing to help.

We all need to get our taxes done as quickly, easily and correctly as possible and to get our refunds back so they can be spent.

It's all about helping the economy. It has nothing to do with my kitchen that needs updating.

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