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Tax prep for the wired.

As the darkness of winter begins to fade, thoughts tend to drift ever so gently to that familiar Spring image: Uncle Sam with his palm outstretched. Yes, tax time rolls onto the horizon once again and this year, as the IRS continues its campaign to encourage e-filing, software developers are ready to help. All you have to do is find those receipts and start typing.

Whether you’re knee deep in deductions or just have an EZ life, TurboTax has a software package catered to your line item needs. Its simplest version, TurboTax Basic, includes the standard forms, an option to import 1098, 1099, and W-2 data from participating employers and financial institutions, and an automated double-check for errors. From that base, more loaded packages include state forms, IRS videos, tax guidance for planning early retirement, and other financial tools. The software can be ordered via the company site, with Web versions also available for download. Basic is $29.95 and more advanced versions start at $39.95.

H&R Block, the people who made tax prep into a 9,000-corner-store dynasty, have TaxCut, also available in multiple versions. This year’s crop of additions features improved error check tools and data imports and, for the small company owner, better business FAQ and tax tips, and the ability to print W-2 and 1099 forms for employees and contractors. The standard package is $14.95, the deluxe is $24.95, and the business version is $49.95. Also introduced for the 2002 tax year is DeductionPro, a $19.95 program that tracks charitable donations in order to provide accurate value for deductions.

CCH Inc.’s entry in the tax wars is CompleteTax, a low-cost online tax preparation and filing option. Unlike other tax software providers that tend to split up federal and state returns, CompleteTax throws them together for $24.95 total. This year’s version offers free e-mail support, an online tax guide, and a method to calculate investment gains and losses for the Schedule D. For a small fee, the befuddled home preparer can access CCH’s online chat service for answers to those tougher tax prep questions.

Not sure if all your deductions are legit? Feeling like you want a little credit from Uncle Sam for all you gave to charity last year? Then perhaps it’s time for ItsDeductible 6.0, available in both download from the site and package for the shelf for $29.95. The new version is updated with more values for commonly donated items, the ability to import donation data into TurboTax, stock donation tracking, and better miscellaneous expense tracking.

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