The countdown to the tax deadline has begun: This year, Tax Day is April 15.
Millions of people take a DIY approach to taxes, and we can help with that. Money Talks News has a lot of articles on tax topics. Or, if you’re having trouble with tax debt, check out “Get Help With Tax Debt” in the Money Talks News Solutions Center.
However, if you need help preparing state and federal tax forms, there is little time to delay.
Many Americans will pay someone to help them prepare and file a return. That is probably a worthwhile expense for some. But “free” is the best price for many others.
So, before you go out and throw down several hundred bucks, check out these gratis alternatives. Many national programs charge nothing to help taxpayers prepare and file their taxes. See whether your tax situation and income meet qualifications for these seven free programs:
1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
The free IRS-sponsored program VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) uses trained volunteers to help taxpayers complete basic state and federal tax returns.
Who’s eligible: Generally, taxpayers earning $54,000 a year or less, those with disabilities and people with limited English-language abilities, according to the IRS.
- Use this online locator tool to learn when and where to find free VITA tax preparation help (and help from the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program described below) and whether you’ll need an appointment or can walk in. Or call 800-906-9887. The IRS website has a list of what to bring to your appointment.
- “Self-prep” is an alternative. You prepare and file your own basic state and federal tax forms using web-based tax software and with help from an IRS-certified volunteer. The option is available at VITA locations that list “Self-Prep” in the site listing.
- Want to volunteer to help low- and moderate-income families with their taxes? The IRS will train you. Find out more at the IRS website.
2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly
IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax preparation to older taxpayers through the TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program. Many volunteers are retired people associated with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
Who’s eligible: The IRS says the program “offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older.”
- Use the IRS online locator tool to learn when and where to find free TCE tax preparation help and whether you’ll need an appointment or can walk in. Or you can call 800-906-9887. The IRS website also provides a list of what to bring with you to the appointment.
3. IRS Free File
Free File is a partnership between the IRS and makers of commercial tax-preparation software participating in the IRS Free File program. Depending on your level of income, eligible taxpayers get free use of one of the following:
- Free File, secure, free brand-name tax preparation software that includes help with state returns.
- Free File fillable forms. State tax preparation is not included.
Who’s eligible: If your income is below a specific level, you qualify to use the Free File tax preparation software.
If your income is above that mark, you are limited to using the free, fillable, electronic versions of paper tax forms. These forms will do your tax math for you, but you only receive basic guidance.
Free File fillable forms won’t be available until Jan. 28, according to the IRS’ Free File webpage.
- The IRS offers an infographic showing how Free File works.
4. Tax preparation companies’ free services
The major benefit with any free tax service is in the money you save. However, these services have limitations, which vary by product:
- Some don’t offer free help with state returns.
- Free products are for simple tax situations. Before using a free product, check the company’s website to compare the free product with costs and features of the company’s paid products.
- You might run into hidden fees. For example, you might be charged a convenience fee if you pay your tax bill using a credit card.
5. United Way: My Free Taxes
Who’s eligible: Individuals or families with a combined household income of under $66,000 are eligible for free help.
6. More free IRS resources
You can get other kinds of free help from the IRS. For example, visit a local taxpayer assistance office — use this locator to find one near you.
Individuals can also phone the IRS for help at 800-829-1040; other numbers are available for businesses, those with hearing difficulties or other concerns. Or, search online at IRS.gov for tax forms and publications.
The IRS website also offers information on:
Do you think paying for tax preparation help is worth it? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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