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5 ways to get free help with tax prep

Americans spend an average of $261 to get an itemized federal and state tax return done. Check out these tips to get free help with your return this year.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 15, 2014 11:39AM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyTax season is upon us, and tax return preparers have already opened their doors to those looking to be the first to file when the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting returns on Jan. 31.


But professional tax preparation can come at a hefty price. The National Society of Accountants says the average cost to prepare a 1040 tax form with itemized deductions and a state tax return is $261, while the cost of preparing a non-itemized 1040 and state return is $152.


Looking to save money on tax return preparation this year?


1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program

If your annual income is $52,000 or less, you may qualify for free basic tax return preparation and e-filing from IRS-certified volunteers through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. The preparers can make sure you don't miss valuable tax credits you qualify for, such as the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.


VITA centers are located throughout the U.S. and can be found by entering your five-digit ZIP code in the locator tool. You can also call (800) 906-9887 to find a nearby location. Before paying them a visit, be sure to gather all the required paperwork. If at all possible, try scheduling an appointment months prior to the April 15 deadline to avoid the last-minute rush.


2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly

The IRS' Tax Counseling for the Elderly or TCE program provides IRS-certified volunteers through AARP and other organizations to help people 60 and older prepare their taxes and to answer any tax-related questions about pensions and retirement plans.


Serious Man Examining a Bill © Digital Vision, Getty ImagesTo find the site nearest you, visit the AARP website and search by your address or county. You can also call a toll-free line at (888) 227-7669.


3. IRS Free File

Maybe you don't qualify for assistance through VITA because your income is too high. You may still be able to prepare and e-file your federal return through IRS Free File using tax preparation software from companies that have partnered with the IRS. But that's only if your income does not exceed $58,000. Participating companies include H&R Block, TurboTax, Free File Alliance and TaxAct.


The free editions are best for first-time filers or those with simple returns. State returns can usually be completed at a nominal rate of somewhere between $10 and $30. And be sure to get things right the first time and save a backup copy once the return is complete, as these companies will assess a fee to amend a return or reprint forms from a prior year.


4. IRS Free Fillable forms

The IRS Free File program also offers a Fillable Form component that you can use to prepare and file your tax return online free of charge, regardless of your annual income. Unfortunately, this option does not offer any on-screen assistance or state return filing options, unlike the software programs.


5. IRS resources

There's always that good old-fashioned help that's just a phone call or office visit away. If your tax return preparation efforts turn into an absolute nightmare, search for your nearest IRS branch and give them a call or make a trip to help alleviate your stress and receive the guidance you need. Don’t want to leave home? Head on over to IRS.gov to search for answers to all your tax questions. It's free.


Keep in mind that complex tax returns should be prepared by a knowledgeable professional; cutting corners could cost you more money in the end.


More on Money Talks News:

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

26Comments
Jan 16, 2014 6:44AM
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If everyone in America is required to File Tax Forms they should be simple enough for everyone in America to fill out without having to pay someone to do it for them.
Jan 15, 2014 9:52PM
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Can the IRS be trusted to do your taxes? Better yet can any government org be trusted?
Jan 16, 2014 4:03AM
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TaxAct does both Federal & State Returns online electronic filing for mere $13.95 with confirmation
and allows you to print copies too.No hassle, No running around.Done in 30 minutes max from the comfort of your own home.
Jan 16, 2014 11:29AM
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I am retired on Social Security and never get money back so I always file manually to slow down the IRS and State.  Filing manually may take a little longer but it makes you aware of how unnecessarily complicated the tax code is and is a form of passive resistance to Big Brother.
Jan 15, 2014 10:45PM
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There are small firms which will do your taxes for 80 bucks or so, perfectly qualified preparers who also have state of the art software. The national franchises are truly scalping filers left and right.
Jan 15, 2014 8:59PM
Jan 16, 2014 11:23AM
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This was the worst tax advice you can give someone.  Remember, you usually get what you pay for.  If those tax preparers at the "free" locations were any good, they wouldn't be doing "free" tax returns.  And ask the IRS???!!!  First, I've never heard of the IRS looking out for the taxpayer over themselves, and second, more often then not they'll tell you just the law as written in the code.  How it applies to you isn't something they'll do.

Like anything in life, yes you can probably do small jobs yourself if you go slow and pay attention.  Big difficult jobs should be handled by the professionals.  Free is fine if all you have is a W-2 and some small bank interest.  Same for doing it yourself.  But if you have much more, it's worth getting professional help. 

Jan 16, 2014 10:56AM
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As a tax preparer I find that the clients that complain the most about doing their taxes are the newly self-employed. They went into business for themselves thinking their past boss was screwing them over by not paying them more, and soon found out about all the taxes, fees, and other expenses his old boss was paying for him.  $300 is nothing when you don't pay a bookkeeper the rest of the year. Plus the self employed get all the tax breaks. Don't even get me started on farmers.
Jan 18, 2014 7:23PM
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Please be careful when having  free tax preparation done . Make sure you understand and check those forms before you sign them , because they're ( tax preparers) not liable if they make a mistake . I had my taxes done by AARP in 2009 . They convinced me that I was eligible for a tax credit on the new home I'd just bought . The IRS said I wasn't , and I was hit with a $ 1500 penalty . The IRS person showed me where the mistake was . I went back to AARP , and they said they're not liable for mistakes . Not having learned my lesson ,I went back two years later , and they made a mistake again . They failed to take out the estimated tax payments that I had made ; I caught this mistake , and brought it to their attention . Please be careful .
Jan 18, 2014 6:32PM
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. Join the Mob,have an affair with the I.R.S. wife,Bribe the tax person doing your taxes,get friendly with your Represative in Washington(they know all the in&out) Don't work at all ,But the only draw back is you have to like going to Jail. You could call it a vacation, Happy trials   BYE 
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I'm sure that there's a bunch of foreign entities that will give you a check to deposit and they will give you boo koo dollars in return, LOL.
Jan 15, 2014 10:22PM
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  Or just become a democrat and leech of the tax payers and be a useful excuse allowing growth the Nazi state. Hitler loved a good socialist.
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