Filing an income tax return is an annual task for most Americans that can be confusing and time-consuming. You may need tax assistance if it is your first time submitting a tax return, you have complicated finances, or English is your second language. However, getting professional help could come at a cost. Fortunately, you may be able to find free tax assistance online and in person, depending on your situation. For instance, you might be able to use software specific to your needs if you are elderly or in the military. Check out six ways to get free help filing your taxes.
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Free Federal Tax Filing With IRS Free File
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a free federal tax filing program that may be able to help you complete your return with guided prompts. The IRS Free File program works with the Free File Alliance – a group of tax-preparation companies – to provide electronic assistance.
The organizations that offer IRS help filing taxes are private software companies, and you may recognize their names, such as the following:
It may help to find IRS recommended online tax preparers through the IRS website and follow the links provided. You may not receive free help if you go through a company’s website directly.
To file taxes free online using assistance programs, you must have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $73,000 to receive free preparation assistance in most cases. However, some tax preparers may have additional requirements, including the following:
· Lower income thresholds, like less than $65,000 (TaxAct) or $39,000 (TaxSlayer)
· Age requirements, such as being younger than 65 years of age
· State of residence limits
· Free state filings but not federal
· Military service requirements
After you select a partnering company, the next step is to gather your tax documents to complete the process. These include things like income statements, like W2s and 1099s, and information about your spouse and dependents, if applicable.Regardless of your income, you can also use free fillable tax forms to prepare taxes on your own.
Volunteers in Tax Assistance (VITA)
You can reach out to Volunteers in Tax Assistance (VITA) for help preparing your basic income tax return. VITA is a community tax help program that operates thanks to certified volunteers.
All volunteers must pass tax law training to prepare tax returns. Plus, the IRS requires training and VITA sites to meet its own standards.
VITA offers free tax preparers services from certified volunteers if you meet any of the following requirements:
· Make less than $58,000 per year
· Have a disability
· Have a limited understanding of the English language
You can use the IRS website VITA/TCE Locator tool to find nearby sites for in-person help. Your state or county may also offer location tools. Depending on where you live, the closest site could be walking distance or several miles away.
Likewise, VITA taxes may be offered year-round or only during certain months of the year. The IRS authorizes select locations as Certifying Acceptance Agents (CAA), which is where you can apply for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) if you do not have one.
Here are some items you may need to bring to a VITA site when seeking assistance with your income tax return:
· Photo identification
· Birth dates and ITIN (or Social Security number) for you, your spouse, and dependents, as needed
· Income documents, including wages, interest, and dividend statements
You may need additional documents or information if you are applying for an ITIN or want your tax refund electronically deposited into your account. If you are married and filing jointly, both you and your spouse will need to sign the return.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a program like VITA that offers free tax preparation. However, TCE is specifically tax help for the elderly – those 60 years of age or older. TCE volunteers specialize in senior citizen tax help on retirement-related topics, like pensions.
The free tax preparers for seniors must also pass IRS-approved training, and a TCE site must meet or exceed the agency’s standards.
You can find TCE sites offering free tax services for the elderly using the same VITA/TCE Locator tool on the IRS website. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) operates most TCE sites, so you may also use the AARP Site Locator Tool found on the same webpage.
AARP Tax Aide
The AARP has a free tax aide program available during the tax season, typically from February to Tax Day (mid-April). While AARP tax help is for people of all ages, the program prioritizes seniors (50 years of age or older) and lower-income taxpayers.
You can receive AARP tax preparation services in person from an IRS-certified preparer. Or, you can use AARP tax prep assistance to file your return online. Depending on where you live, you may need to make an AARP tax service appointment beforehand.
MilTax is a software program that especially assists with military-related tax questions, such as combat and training pay, housing, multi-state filings, and more. The U.S. Department of Defense created MilTax software to give step-by-step instructions for the following groups of people:
· Active-duty service members
· National Guard and Reserve members
· Eligible member’s dependents
Mil Tax services are available through your Military OneSource account. When it comes to MilTax for veterans, former service members and retirees can use it within one year of leaving service.
Similar to how AARP operates TCE services, H&R Block operates MilTax. You may be able to create an H&R Block MilTax account if you do not have a Military OneSource account.
Free Tax Software From Private Preparers
You can often find free online tax filing software from some brand-name preparers. These free online tax preparation services may help you with basic tax returns, but they may not be as helpful if you have a complicated filing, such as being self-employed or in the military.
Similarly, guidance for your federal taxes is usually a completely free online tax filing, but you may find small fees for help on your state return through the same preparer. Here are some of the most popular online tax places to get free help:
· TaxAct Free File
· TurboTax free
· 1040.com Free File Edition
· Credit Karma
· eSmart Free File Edition
· H&R Block
· Online Taxes Free at OLT.com
· United Way’s MyFreeTaxes
It’s a good idea to thoroughly research tax preparers before proceeding with a free filing process. Your tax filing has a lot of personal and financial information, and scammers could attempt to steal your identity, bank account funds, or more.