Preparing your federal income tax return is rarely easy and is never fun, and changes in tax regulations have made this filing season more difficult. For example, Congress passed several stimulus bills to offset the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, increased the Earned Income Tax Credit and extended the Child Care Credit. Do you report these stimulus checks as income? Have you taken any advance child tax credit payments? Do you know what refunds you're entitled to?
The rules from the IRS are constantly changing and it's difficult to keep up to date, forcing many people to hire tax professionals and spend hundreds of dollars for tax return preparation.
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Fortunately, that's not necessary. The IRS has several programs that taxpayers can use without having to spend money for tax advice from a CPA to file an accurate tax return.
Here are four resources available from the IRS that provide free tax help.
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The IRS has partnered with several private tax filing software companies to use guided preparation and file your federal tax return for free, although the providers may charge to prepare state tax returns.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) for Your Tax Return
The Internal Revenue Service provides certified volunteers for the VITA program. They are often retirees associated with non-profit organizations that are funded with grants from the IRS.
These volunteers must take training in tax laws and pass exams that meet IRS standards. In addition, the IRS reviews each return prepared at VITA sites before they are filed. While these volunteers can handle the preparation of basic tax returns, they may not be able to handle returns with more complicated issues, such as determining the validity of home office deductions or preparing schedules for complex capital gains and losses.
To qualify for free VITA help, you must make less than $58,000 in income. The program is also available to the elderly, people with disabilities and those with limited ability to speak English.
Set up appointments at local libraries, community colleges and senior centers. Use this locator to find a VITA site near you, and go through this recommended list of what to bring for your appointment.
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Tax Counseling for the Elderly
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program provides free help for qualifying taxpayers age 60 and older. The TCE program also provides advice about Social Security, disability, pensions and other issues related to retirement for seniors.
The Internal Revenue Service Helpline
You may have to stay on hold for a while, but you can still call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if you have specific questions. The IRS suggests calling later in the week for shorter wait times.
However, the IRS has a long list of complex topics that cannot be resolved over the phone.
IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers
If you can't solve your tax filing questions or problems over the phone, you can contact the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center and set up an appointment with an agent.
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IRS Free File Online Options
If you feel you have resolved all your tax questions, you can use the IRS Free File system to file your federal return online. The IRS has partnered with several private tax filing software companies to use guided preparation and file your federal tax return for free, although the providers may charge to prepare state tax returns. Your adjusted gross income must be $73,000 or less in order to use this program.
To begin, you must first go through the Browse All Offers page to select a provider. After making your choice, you'll leave the IRS.gov website and go to your provider's website. Then you'll create an online account and use the tax preparation software to complete the fillable forms to e-file your return instead of filing with a paper return. You'll also be able to record your bank account to receive any refunds more quickly by direct deposit.
Note that you must go through the IRS.gov website to select a provider and be able to use this free tax return preparation program. You cannot go directly to the software provider's website and use the IRS Free File option.
- U.S. News: 12 Places to Find Free Tax Advice
- Internal Revenue Service: Get Free Tax Prep Help
- Internal Revenue Service: IRS Free File Online Options
- Internal Revenue Service: IRS Free File: Do your Taxes for Free
- Internal Revenue Service: Find Information on Complex Tax Topics
- Internal Revenue Service: Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers
- Internal Revenue Service: What to Bring to Your Local VITA or TCE Site
- Internal Revenue Service: Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications
- Internal Revenue Service: Telephone Assistance