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A number of online resources can ease the burden of tax time.

As you’re filing your annual tax return this month, you may wonder, why April? Why mar the start of springtime with a chore that seems better suited to March’s cruel temperament? Alas, there’s no answer in the FAQ of most top tax sites, not even the Tax History Project site (not yet, anyway). But maybe that’s a good thing. Few of us feel curious or whimsical, after all, when forced to confront the past year’s cold, hard numbers. Anxious, cranky, confused–we want facts, answers, help. We know the Web can help us find forms, file electronically, and make sense of the latest tax laws. But if you haven’t actually looked at any tax-related sites since, oh, 1995 (yes, I confess), you’ll find a surprising depth of financial advice that may have you coming back all year.

Quicken.com’s Tax-Savvy Strategies

Sure, Quicken.com wants to sell its software, but you don’t need to buy anything to benefit from its free tax advice, which is quick, accessible, and helpful. You can also try out Quicken TurboTax for the Web, a secure Web-based program that creates and stores your tax returns without forcing you to download any software to your computer. You pay for it only when you print out or file your return. (Many tax sites link to it.) The tool has a slick, easy-to-use interface that automatically saves your information and restarts where you left off. If your employer allows it, you can download your W-2s into the program instead of entering them manually. Downside: If you have any questions, you’ll have to pay for help by phone or e-mail.

SmartMoney.com Tax Guide

Speaking of your CPA, do you know whether he or she has ever run into trouble with the IRS? Did you know that if your CPA is on the IRS’s problem list, you’re more likely to be audited? SmartMoney’s tax articles are gripping tax lit noir-must-reads that may keep you up at night. Unlike other sites, SmartMoney remembers to stoke the fear of an IRS audit or even just an inquiry–perhaps because one of the authors has been through it (see “8 Tax Return Screwups to Avoid”). But if you follow their advice, your story should have a happy ending.

TaxPlanet

TaxPlanet.com makes everyone’s short list of top tax sites because of its comprehensive coverage and straightforward style. Unlike the Internal Revenue Service, third-party sites such as this one endeavor to explain regulations in plain English. TaxPlanet is the unabridged dictionary of tax sites, covering everything from the latest legislation and news stories (e.g., Bush’s proposed budget) to deducting your losses at the racetrack. Especially worthwhile is the year-round tax guide, which looks at life’s minutiae–vacations, job hunting, and even shopping for clothes–through the lens of a strategic planner. Take even a portion of TaxPlanet’s general tax strategy advice and you’ll have your CPA weeping for joy next year.

Take advantage of these and other sites now (check out the list at Essential Links to Tax Sites), and next April 15th may find you tiptoeing through the tulips instead of standing in a long line at the post office.

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