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Free and fast help for tax time

Lourdes Montes-Greenan | 4/10/2015, 3 p.m.
It has been said that nothing is certain but death and taxes. While both are inevitable, residents who earned less ...

It has been said that nothing is certain but death and taxes. While both are inevitable, residents who earned less than $53,000 in 2014 can fear taxes a little less this time of year, thanks to the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax filing services.

With the average fee for tax preparation hitting $261, tax planning costs can be considerable, depending on how much assistance you need, according to the National Society of Accountants.

However, for qualified earners, there are several no-cost ways to file your tax returns and take control of your finances. Here are a few tips to help access your tax refund quickly and make the most of it.

Find local agencies that offer free services. For computer-friendly filers, the IRS website provides free filing tools. But if you’re look for a more hands-on approach, the VITA program offers local IRS-certified volunteers to assist qualified individuals and families with tax planning, including finding deductions and credits to maximize tax refunds. PNC Bank, for example, has teamed up with the IRS to offer 160 locations in 13 states and Washington, D.C.

Better than check refunds. Consider loading your tax refund onto a prepaid card. A prepaid card offers fast, convenient access to refunds, and the prepaid limit helps families and individuals better manage their finances. Another advantage of using a prepaid card instead of waiting for a refund check is convenience. Money loaded onto the card can be used like a typical debit card purchase. Look for one with low-or no-fees, with a large ATM network for affordable withdrawals.

Take advantage of savings tools. Whether you want to open a retirement account, put aside funds for an emergency, or save for college, many financial institutions can offer online tools, such as calculators, to better manage and grow your money. If you don’t know where to start, ask your local bank or credit union.

Lourdes Montes-Greenan works in community development banking for PNC Bank. For a list of VITA sites, visit http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Find-a-Location-for-Free-Tax-Prep.