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Free, no-rip-off tax preparation

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No fees, no rip-offs: Instead of wasting hundreds of dollars on "refund anticipation loans" (see "Refund loans target the poor"), if you earned $39,000 or less last year, you could have your taxes prepared for free. N.C. Central University law students trained and certified to prepare tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program are offering free income tax preparation and filing March 17, 24 and 31 and April 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the second-floor computer lab of the NCCU law school, 1512 S. Alston St., Durham.

VITA is an IRS program that provides free tax preparation to eligible taxpayers. Returns will be filed electronically, and in most cases taxpayers will receive refunds within two weeks. If you're married and filing taxes jointly—and want to file electronically—both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.

You'll need to bring the following documents: Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents, or a verification letter from the Social Security Administration; wage and earning statements from all employers; bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit (these numbers are listed on your bank checks); if applicable, interest and dividend statements from your bank; and if available, a copy of last year's federal and state returns. If you paid for day care, bring the day-care provider's Social Security number or Employer Identification Number.

For a list of other VITA sites in the Triangle, see the state Commissioner of Banks' Web site, www.savetherefund.org.

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