As we all know, there are only two certainties — death and taxes. I don't like writing (or thinking) about death. So this column is about taxes.
Not so coincidentally, we're in the tax season. Many people fill out the short form and send it in. Good for them. Lots of us have more complicated financial lives.
In many cases, those complications will be handled by a hired tax professional. But some people really like to do their own taxes. They aren't alone; there's plenty of help online.
Get your questions answered
Got questions? Check out what experts have posted online. Three good sites are Motley Fool, Kiplinger's and MSN Money. These sites may be easier to understand than the information on the Internal Revenue Service's site. I have links to them at www.komando.com/news.
You'll learn about commonly overlooked deductions. Then, find out about requirements for taking the deductions.
Uncovering deductions will be popular with every taxpayer. But there's more to preparing taxes than deductions. So you'll find information on avoiding audits and changes in tax law. The sites will also help you decide when to call in a professional.
File your forms online
When you're ready to file your federal taxes, you can do it online. The IRS wants more taxpayers to file electronically. So it has teamed up with tax preparation software companies such as TaxCut, TaxAct (one of my show's sponsors) and TurboTax.
Together, they offer free e-filing services. You must meet certain requirements to qualify for free filing.
First, your adjusted gross income must be $54,000 or less. There are also age and residency requirements. And other criteria may apply.
Start at www.irs.gov. Type this address in your browser. It is the only way to ensure you'll go to the official IRS site.
Once there, you'll get help choosing software that suits your needs. Then, you'll be directed to the software company's site.
The software walks you through doing your taxes. Forget about finding the correct forms. All you need are your financial papers. The software performs the calculations for you. So you're less likely to make mathematical errors.
Don't qualify for free filing? You can still find tax filing software at the IRS's site. You just have to pay for it, along with e-filing fees.
Don't forget your state taxes. You may be able to file those with your federal taxes. Some companies offer free state filing. But in many cases, you'll be charged to file your state return.
Protect your information
Companies listed on the IRS website must abide by the IRS's rules. Your information is transmitted securely. The companies can't disclose your information to third parties without consent.
Make sure your computer's security software is current. Before preparing your taxes, scan your computer for spyware and other threats.
And remember that criminals love tax season. Watch for phony e-mail messages purporting to come from the IRS. Just delete the messages. Don't click links or call numbers in e-mail. The IRS won't contact you via e-mail.
Finally, if your taxes are complicated, consult an expert. Paying for professional help is better than facing an audit.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at: www.komando.com/newsletters. Contact her at email@example.com.