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Tax season is upon us, and tax return preparers have already opened their doors to those looking to be the first to file when the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting returns on Jan. 31.
But professional tax preparation can come at a hefty price. The National Society of Accountants says the average cost to prepare a 1040 tax form with itemized deductions and a state tax return is $261, while the cost of preparing a non-itemized 1040 and state return is $152.
Looking to save money on tax return preparation this year? Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson offers some tips on how to get your taxes done without spending a dime. Watch the video below and continue reading for more information.
1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program
If your annual income is $52,000 or less, you may qualify for free basic tax return preparation and e-filing from IRS-certified volunteers through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. The preparers can make sure you don’t miss valuable tax credits you qualify for, such as the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.
VITA centers are located throughout the U.S. and can be found by entering your five-digit ZIP code in the Locator Tool. You can also call (800) 906-9887 to find a nearby location. Before paying them a visit, be sure to gather all the required paperwork. If at all possible, try scheduling an appointment months prior to the April 15 deadline to avoid the last-minute rush.
2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly
The IRS’ Tax Counseling for the Elderly or TCE program provides IRS-certified volunteers through AARP and other organizations to help people 60 and older prepare their taxes and to answer any tax-related questions about pensions and retirement plans.
To find the site nearest you, visit the AARP website and search by your address or county. You can also call a toll-free line at (888) 227-7669.
3. IRS Free File
Maybe you don’t qualify for assistance through VITA because your income is too high. You may still be able to prepare and e-file your federal return through IRS Free File using tax preparation software from companies that have partnered with the IRS. But that’s only if your income does not exceed $58,000. Participating companies include H&R Block, TurboTax, Free File Alliance and TaxAct.
The free editions are best for first-time filers or those with simple returns. State returns can usually be completed at a nominal rate of somewhere between $10 and $30. And be sure to get things right the first time and save a backup copy once the return is complete, as these companies will assess a fee to amend a return or reprint forms from a prior year.
4. IRS Free Fillable forms
The IRS Free File program also offers a Fillable Form component that you can use to prepare and file your tax return online free of charge, regardless of your annual income. Unfortunately, this option does not offer any on-screen assistance or state return filing options, unlike the software programs.
5. IRS resources
There’s always that good old-fashioned help that’s just a phone call or office visit away. If your tax return preparation efforts turn into an absolute nightmare, search for your nearest IRS branch and give them a call or make a trip to help alleviate your stress and receive the guidance you need. Don’t want to leave home? Head on over to IRS.gov to search for answers to all your tax questions. It’s free.
Keep in mind that complex tax returns should be prepared by a knowledgeable professional; cutting corners could cost you more money in the end. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on more of Stacy’s tax hacks. Next Wednesday, we’ll be covering tips to avoid a tax audit.