The Internal Revenue Service says its mission is to “Provide America’s taxpayers top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all.”

Which is a little like Death helping you to “understand and meet your fate.” But Death — at least for the deceased — requires much less paperwork.

Enter tax-preparation software, which promises to make the chore easy, quick and accurate.

And, for some taxpayers, it does. I’ve been using Quicken TurboTax by Intuit for years, and it has always delivered a thoughtful user interface, intelligent help screens and accurate calculation. As do most of its competitors.

But if there’s a “Best of Breed” for tax-prep software, it’s TurboTax (MacInTax for the Mac crowd).

The IRS will let you file your return toll-free by telephone (called TeleFile) if your income is less than $56,950 (single) or $62,500 (married, filing jointly) and you meet a few other easy requirements. So, if you qualify, this is the way to go.

But if 1998 was a good year and you exceeded those income levels, consider tax-prep software. However, don’t rush to buy a program just yet.

If you had income from several sources, including a couple of businesses and stocks, your return might be too complex for the software, which depends on you to make some key assumptions and which you might make in error.

And if you haven’t been diligent about keeping financial records, whether on computer or in ledger books, tax-prep software can’t help. For example, if you have no clue when you’re asked about charitable contributions, don’t buy a program. Tax-prep software helps you submit the results of your yearlong organization, but it doesn’t supply the organization.

People who work in one tax jurisdiction and live in another can often be aided by tax software, which will automatically copy all information from the federal form and waltz it through various state and city tax returns

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