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Tax preparation software for your desktop, tablet and smartphone

If you do your own taxes, you can save yourself time and headaches by using tax preparation software, experts say. The software leads you by the hand screen by screen as you answer simple questions. By the end, the program has filled in all of the right forms and done the math for you. Big brands such as TurboTax, TaxACT and H&R Block At Home have tax prep tools to suit just about every situation.

Tax software for your computer: This is what most people use. You can buy boxed CD tax software at the store, download it or visit the company's website and do your taxes online. Some tax software is also optimized for tablets. Cost: Up to $75 or more, depending on how much handholding you want.

Tax apps for tablets: Designed especially for tablets, these apps let you swipe and tap as you plow through your taxes. All major brands have them, and the best ones can do even complicated returns. These are separate from software that's optimized for use with tablets. Cost: Up to $30.

Smartphone tax apps: Speedy smartphone apps let you file your taxes in just 10 minutes. Snap a photo of your W-2, answer a few questions and you're done. These work only for simple returns like 1040EZ and 1040A. You'll need an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android smartphone. Cost: Up to $25.

Free tax filing: There are all sorts of free ways to file your taxes. The best by far is TaxACT Free Edition 2012: Year after year, this software allows anyone to prep and e-file even a complex federal return absolutely free. However, you'll get less built-in help than with the paid types.

To find the best tax preparation software, expert testers actually do their own taxes or a dummy return on several different apps and software, and compare the results. While they look for accuracy and, of course, the biggest refund, easy-to-use programs with helpful extras get the highest marks. Reviews from users point out which programs work smoothly and which ones don't. We sift through dozens of user comments to determine which tax preparation programs work the best.

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