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 “Need Help With Tax Debt? Here’s What to Do” 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 taxes. See whether your tax situation and income meet qualifications for these 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 $56,000 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 whether you’ll need an appointment or can walk in.
- The IRS website has a list of what to bring to your appointment.
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,” with a focus on questions regarding pensions and other retirement-related issues.
- 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.
- 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.
Resources: 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.
Who’s eligible: Individuals or families with a combined household income of under $66,000 were eligible for free help in 2018. The limits for 2019 haven’t yet been announced.
More free IRS resources
You can get other kinds of free help from the IRS. For example, you can make an appointment to visit a local taxpayer assistance office for an in-person review of tax documents — use this list to find one near you.
The IRS website also offers information on:
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