Free Tax Assistance Is Available
The tax code is adjusted every year and it can be a lot to keep up with. Sometimes your life situation changes and you’re unsure how to handle the tax ramifications. The penalties for filing your taxes incorrectly are high, especially if you falsely claim certain tax breaks (like the Earned Income Tax Credit). Because of this, it’s often recommended that you seek professional help in preparing your taxes.
The cost of professional tax preparation can be quite high, hovering around $150 for a standard 1040 Form without itemized deductions. Fortunately, there are several places where you can go for free tax help. (Note that some of these options have income restrictions.)
Free Tax Preparation Software
If your annual income is less than $60,000, you can qualify to use Free File, the IRS’ free tax preparation service. The Free File software will help you prepare and file your Federal income tax return for free. A list of companies that participate in Free File is available on the IRS website.
Free File software is similar to commercial tax preparation software that you might pay for. However, only some Free File providers offer free e-file for state tax returns. You will need to make sure that the software you choose can fulfill your tax filing needs.
If you need additional assistance while using IRS Free File, there are two nationwide volunteer organizations that can help you: the VITA program and the TCE program.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program
If your annual income is $53,000 or less, you may qualify for free tax help from the VITA program. This program is designed to assist persons with lower income, disabilities, or limited English speaking skills, as well as elderly taxpayers.
VITA is a network of volunteer tax preparers across the country. Many of volunteers are retired individuals who are associated with a non-profit organization and are looking to give back to their community. All VITA volunteers are IRS-certified and trained to provide basic tax return preparation, including electronic filing for eligible taxpayers.
VITA locations can usually be found in/near community centers, libraries, schools, and shopping malls. To find your local VITA site, call 800-906-9887 or use the online VITA Locator Tool.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program
The TCE program provides free tax assistance to all taxpayers, but specializes in helping the elderly (those who are age 60 or older). TCE volunteers are trained to answer questions about pensions, retirement income, and other tax issues that affect seniors.
Similar to VITA locations, TCE sites can usually be found in/near community centers, libraries, schools, and shopping malls. To find your local TCE site, call 800-906-9887 or use the online TCE Locator Tool.
Note that many of the TCE centers are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. To find your local AARP TCE Tax-Aide site, call 888-227-7669 or use the online AARP Site Locator Tool.
What You Should Bring to the VITA or TCE Center
Before you go, contact the center to make sure that it offers the services you need. The types of cases that each center can handle will vary based on the skills of the volunteers available.
In order to utilize the volunteer tax services, you will need to bring all of your pertinent tax information and documents with you. This includes the following:
• A government-issued photo ID
• Social Security cards for you and your dependents (and your spouse, if filing jointly)
• All income documentation (e.g., W-2s, 1099s, and interest income)
• Proof of health insurance
A full checklist is available on the IRS website. There may be additional documentation that is required, depending on your situation, so make sure you check with the center ahead of time if you have special circumstances.
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