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free tax filing Spring break was great, the weather's warming up, and summer vacation is coming round the corner. The absolute last thing you want to do now is your taxes. But unless you want to suffer the consequences, you've got to get 'em done, and soon, to meet this year's April 18 deadline.

On the bright side: You're a college student, so this should be a pretty simple process; you're likely to get a nice return; and there are several free or low-cost tax filing services out there.

As for the filing process itself: That you'll have to slog through on your own. Sorry.

But WalletPop's Compare and Contrast can get you one step closer. We tested three free, basic online tax services, going through several steps in the filing process -- without actually filing them -- to find the best service for you. All information is current as of April 3 and subject to change.Site: H&R Block Free Edition
Price: Free federal filing; $27.95 for each state return
Ease of Use: High, thanks to comprehensive instructions. Also reassuring to see was a timeline at the bottom of the page, indicating the progress so far.
Speed: Very fast. New pages upload in a blink.
Accuracy: We plugged in the wrong employee ID number and disparate wage information, but the free edition didn't pick up on these mistakes.

Site: TaxACT Free Edition
Price: Free federal filing; $17.95 for each state return
Ease of Use: High. We like that it starts with an instructional video explaining how to use the service.
Speed: Very fast, with pages flowing one into the next within a second or two.
Accuracy: We typed in the wrong employee ID number and disparate wage figures, but the system didn't pick up the mistakes.

Service: TurboTax Online Federal Free Edition
Price: Free federal filing; $27.95 for each state return
Ease of Use: High, thanks to a comprehensive step-by-step guide, although the navigation of one page sent me down a detour where I was asked to claim a dependent, even though I didn't intend to.
Speed: Very fast. Barely a second passes from page to page.
Accuracy: Again, we typed in some incorrect information to see if the typos were caught, and they weren't.

What we think: From our perspective, all three sites are pretty comparable. The federal filing process is free, the step-by-step process is pretty easy to follow, the page loads are very fast, and they each have about the same number of annoying pay-to-upgrade promotional pages throughout the process.

So in the end, we've got to go with TaxACT primarily because the fee for state returns is $10 less than H&R and TurboTax (and that brief video tutorial is a nice touch too). We don't think you'll have the best time ever filing your taxes, but with TaxACT, at least you can do so with minimal stress and expense.

Piet Levy's Compare and Contrast breaks down the prices and perks for products and services that college kids want, and posts them on WalletPop's Money College page. Send suggestions, including items or services that you want written about, to moneycollege@walletpop.com.

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