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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Tax season is here and so comes the stress. Every year thousands of Arkansans lose out on money they could have gotten back if they would have gotten help.

Good news is free help is available.Sarah Tacker,Assistant Attorney General stops by "THV 11 News This Morning" with more.

Whether taxpayers find the 1040EZ to be not so easy after all, or they would prefer to have assistance in preparing and filing their tax returns, countless consumers will seek help from tax preparation services this year.

There are a variety of free tax assistance options available. So, as tax filing season approaches, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today issued this consumer alert to let Arkansans know about their tax preparation choices.

"Many taxpayers can save the money they would typically spend on tax preparation services by taking advantage of free programs available to them," McDaniel said. "Taxpayers may be eligible for free assistance in filing their federal returns electronically. Additional tax help is available to others from a variety of organizations."

The IRS's "Free File" program is available to taxpayers who earn $57,000 or less in annual adjusted gross income. To take advantage of the free service, visit www.irs.gov/efile and click on "Free File" for a list of private tax preparation services that will file federal returns at no charge.

In addition to Free File, the IRS offers free return preparation and filing assistance through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. Generally, taxpayers who earn less than $50,000 a year are eligible for help filing federal and state returns through VITA.

Trained volunteers assist taxpayers at VITA sites such as community centers, libraries or schools. Call (800) 906-9887 to locate the nearest VITA site or visit www.irs.gov.

For those 60 and over, the TCE program is available. The AARP provides its free Tax-Aide counseling services as part of that program. Call (888) 227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/ for information or locations.

Also, the Armed Forces Tax Council offers free VITA program help to service members and their families.

For those consumers who choose to pay for tax preparation services, McDaniel provided these tips:

• Shop for the best rate. Because prices may vary significantly between tax preparation services, get estimates from multiple providers.
• Keep in mind that taxpayers are ultimately responsible for all information submitted to the IRS. Therefore, taxpayers should be comfortable with the reputation and qualifications of those services handling tax returns.
• Read the return after it has been prepared and before it is filed, and ask questions about any entries that are difficult to understand.
• Ask the tax preparer whether the service has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The number is issued by the IRS.
• Make sure that the tax preparation service is open year-round in the event there are follow-up questions about the return.

For more information about this or other consumer issues, visit the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division website at www.GotYourBackArkansas.org or call the Consumer Protection Division's hotline at (800) 482-8982.

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