Tip: Free tax preparation help

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Two reasons April 15 may be less stressful: There is free tax help available and your taxes aren't due until April 18 this year.

AARP's Tax-Aide program is open to all ages, although its certified tax counselors are especially trained to handle the returns of people 60 and older. Tax-Aide sites are set up in local libraries and senior and community centers. This year, there are 35 sites in Nassau and 49 in Suffolk.

To find a site, go to aarp.org/taxaide and navigate to the "Tax-Aide Locator" page. Enter your ZIP code to bring up a location, hours and phone number. Some sites require a reservation, others welcome walk-ins. Or call AARP at 888-227-7669 to find a site. You do not have to be an AARP member to use Tax-Aide.

Also helping taxpayers is the government's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service. On Long Island, the largest VITA program is coordinated by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, which offers free help at its 10 branches in Nassau and Suffolk. Unlike Tax-Aide, there is an income eligibility threshold: Your 2010 income must be less than $49,000. VITA is chiefly focused on helping eligible taxpayers get the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refund aimed at low-paid workers. Last year, Bethpage did more than 1,100 returns and helped filers get back $500,000 in EITCs, according to Rob Suarez, who heads Bethpage's VITA program. To find a site administrated by Bethpage, go to lovebeth page.com or call 800-628-7070.

If you plan to use either VITA or Tax-Aide, bring the following information and documents:

Last year's tax return

Social Security cards or other official documentation for yourself and dependents

All W-2s

Unemployment compensation statements

All 1099 forms, including SSA-1099, which shows Social Security benefits you received

Your checking or savings account number if you want to get your refund via direct deposit

Keep in mind that both Tax-Aide and VITA are set up to do only basic federal and state returns. If you have a complex return with several schedules, you are advised to go to a paid tax counselor.

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