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Get your taxes done for free

Believe it or not, the IRS can be helpful.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:26PM

This post comes from Abby Freedman, a freelance writer and daughter of Smart Spending blogger Donna Freedman.

As an aspiring accountant, I am just odd enough to find income taxes fascinating. 

Still, I understand there are saner individuals out there who prefer to duck and cover until this season is over.

Generally, they cope by forking over $100 to $200 to have simple returns completed -- and not necessarily by a CPA -- at a "tax-in-the-box" establishment.

Or they plunk down (much less) money for tax-preparation software to guide them to their refunds. Better, but still not ideal.

You've already paid taxes -- why pay to file a return?
One of the selling points of these tax-software packages is that they allow you to e-file absolutely free

Wow, spiffy. Except that you could get that anyway if your adjusted gross income is $54,000 or less. Through the IRS' "Free File" program, taxpayers can pick from among numerous companies that will guide them through free versions of tax-preparation software. Each company has its own income guidelines, but $54k is the maximum allowed.

In addition, the IRS trains community volunteers to provide free tax help. That beats paying $100 or more at tax in the box.

Free? That's a lot closer to ideal.

The government wants to help -- no, really!
Here's the deal: The IRS is much more helpful than people might think. 

You may think it's a massive, looming, evil bureaucracy just waiting to glom onto your hard-earned dollars. But the 10 or so times I've called the toll-free number, I always talked to helpful, polite employees. 

So don't assume that the agency is out to get you. Tax-preparation assistance sponsored by the government is in fact designed to help the middle class keep its money. 

So why don't you know about this e-filing and tax-prep assistance? I can think of a couple of reasons.

Unlike me, most of you don't routinely cruise the IRS Web site (remember: aspiring accountant = strange), so you wouldn't come across this info. 

Additionally, the community-based tax-assistance programs tend to be run by nonprofit community agencies, which leads middle-class taxpayers to assume they make too much money to qualify for such services.

Think back to what your high school teachers told you about assuming. Depending on the program, you can earn up to $40,000 as an individual and still get this tax-prep assistance. Unions and the military also offer free help, regardless of your pay rate. 

No taxation without this representation
The best way to find free tax help is to call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040. For those who hate being on hold, here are a couple of online sources:

  • The AARP provides lists of programs based on your ZIP code. 
  • The National Community Tax Coalition has a state-by-state list of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs from last year, many of which will are likely be active in 2008, according to the site.

So instead of paying for tax help, consider taking advantage of these government-sponsored programs. After all, the e-filing and tax prep assistance are subsidized by your tax dollars.

Finally, we all know -- I hope -- that refund anticipation loans are a terrible idea. If you need money that quickly, then just e-file and opt for direct deposit, for goodness' sake. You'll have your money in as little as 10 days.

And if you take advantage of the advice above, you won't have to shell out $100 or more in prep fees to get it.

Published Feb. 25, 2008



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