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4 places to get free tax help

Does $100 billion sound like a lot for taxes? It's not what Americans owe every year -- it's what we pay to get our returns filed. But 70% of Americans shouldn't be paying anything.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 7, 2012 7:19PM

This post is from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


In the past few months, politicians like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker John Boehner have suggested Americans spend as much as $500 billion a year to file taxes.


That’s way off, according to Politifact. But they cite a tax expert’s opinion and a 2005 Government Accountability Office study, which both suggest it is probably above $100 billion a year.


That’s a crazy number, considering many Americans don’t have to pay anything. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 70% of Americans are eligible for free tax preparation and filing software.


In the video below, Money Talks News founder and CPA Stacy Johnson has one of the most popular pieces of tax advice around -- where to get taxes done for free. Check it out, and then read on for more. (Post continues below video.)

As you heard, there are different options depending on your age and income level -- but everybody has a cheaper route than going to a tax pro.

 

Income below $50,000? Free in-person help

 

Check out the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. The program offers free preparation help and information on tax credits you might qualify for, plus tips on free electronic filing.


There are thousands of these locations across the country in schools, libraries, malls and community centers. You can look up free tax-prep locations by ZIP code -- there were five in as many miles near me, and only one required appointments. You can also call 1-800-906-9887 to find a location.


Although many take walk-ins who show up with all their paperwork, it’s probably a good idea to make an appointment. The closer to Tax Day (April 17) we get, the more hectic things will be.


Free in-person help for people 60-plus
 
If you’re a sexagenarian (a fun word for those in their 60s), the IRS has a Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. These experts provided through the AARP have special knowledge of tax matters related to retirement and pension plans.


You don’t have to be an AARP member to qualify -- all you have to do is use their website to find an AARP Tax Aide near you. Alternatively, call 1-888-227-7669.


Free help for those with incomes under $57,000

 

If you’re too young or fall in the income gap between $50,000 and $57,000, the IRS wants you to know about Free File tax software. Answer a few basic questions and the site will help you pick one of several free tax preparation options.


A warning: While these sites will help you prepare and file for free, there’s often a fee for filing a state return, amending your federal return or pulling up a previous year’s return. Fees vary, but can run between $10 and $40 for each of these snags. So shop around, do things right the first time and keep both digital and hard copies when you file.


Free tax help for everybody else

 

There are two components to the IRS free file system. The preparation help is only for those with gross incomes of less than $57,000. But the online filing part is free for everybody, so feel free to use the IRS’ Free File Fillable Forms instead of mailing in a pen-and-paper version.


While you can’t get step-by-step guidance, you can always get free help from the IRS by visiting a local office or calling 1-800-829-1040. Though it may take some digging, the IRS has all its tax code publications online and a huge, searchable tax FAQ. Not the most convenient way to do your taxes, but still free.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

3Comments
Feb 14, 2012 1:32PM
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if we went to having a national sales tax all of us would have no trouble at all with tax forms etc!!! and we could spend the $100 billion on other things to stimulate economy.  And no rich people could avoid paying taxs and even illegals would have to pay tax...imagine.   You would lose your sacred home deduction but you would pay less tax than you do having deductions.  Why is this so hard to comprehend
Feb 14, 2012 12:29PM
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AARP is FREE for anyone with low to medium income and even a C-EZ or non-complicated Sch C. You do not have to be 60 or older ether. We do all ages. Yes it is primarily for the older generation and they get first priority. Check either your local libraries or the AARP website for a location near you. We also

 E-File both Federal and state returns free.

Jan 15, 2013 3:48PM
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While people MAY be eligible for doing their return for free, and don't need to go to a tax pro - the majority should.  In my years of doing taxes i have seen a ton of people miss money they should've been getting back, i've also seen those who should've been paying more than they figured.  I've seen returns done wrong by CPAs, companies, and individuals.  The "free" help is not always the best.  There are reasons the people who do taxes have to be registered with the IRS!  

 

Bottom lines:

 1.  Be sure to have it double checked if you are doing it on your own, even if you're sure you're right.  2. Be sure you're comfortable with who is doing the return, whether it be you, a friend, a company, or free help. 

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