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Chain tax preparation services all boast about helping you to get your tax refund fast. Well here's a newsflash.... there's nothing special about what they're doing, and you can get a fast refund all by yourself!

The IRS offers direct deposit of your refund if you provide your checking or savings account information when filing your taxes. If you file paper forms, it will likely take three to six weeks to get your refund. If you file electronically, you can have your refund in two weeks or less. And there are plenty of online services like TurboTax to help you fill out your tax forms and file electronically.

Direct deposit through the IRS is free and it is safe. You don't risk having a check lost in the mail. So opt for direct deposit with the IRS and skip all the tax preparation services that brag about fast (but expensive) refunds.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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Infamous Tax Crimes

Although most Americans fill out their tax returns diligently and honestly, not all taxpayers are as respectful of the law. Some wealthy taxpayers cheat because they feel they already pay more than their fair share of taxes, while some regard the entire tax system as unconstitutional. Regardless of the reason, it's big news when the rich and famous are convicted of tax crimes. You're likely to know at least one or more of the famous names on this list of notorious tax cheats.

Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

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