4 ways to get your taxes done free
Most Americans are eligible for free tax preparation, but many don't realize that. Here's where to find help.
This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.
Estimates suggest that Americans spend more than $100 billion a year on tax preparation. But, according to the IRS, 70% of Americans are eligible for free filing software, and other free professional help is also widely available. If you wouldn't pass up an easy deduction, why would you overpay to file?
Options vary depending on your age and income level, but practically everybody can find help that's cheaper than a tax pro.
Income below $51,000? Free in-person help
Check out the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. It offers free preparation by trained volunteers, complete with information on tax credits you might qualify for. Most include free electronic filing as well.
There are thousands of locations across the country in schools, libraries, malls and community centers. You can look up free tax prep locations by ZIP code. There are five within as many miles in my area, and only one requires appointments. You can also call 800-906-9887 to find a location.
Although many take walk-ins, providing they show up with all their paperwork, it's probably a good idea to make an appointment just in case. The closer to April 15 we get, the more hectic things will be.
Free in-person help for people 60 and older
If you have low to middle income, particularly if you're 60 or older, you're eligible for the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. These preparers, provided through the AARP, have special knowledge of tax issues related to retirement and pension plans.
You don't have to be an AARP member to qualify. Just use their website to find an AARP tax aide near you, or call 888-227-7669. When I did a check for locations near me, I found three within 15 miles of my home.
Free online prep and filing for incomes $57,000 or less
Make $57,000 or less and you can use free tax preparation software through the IRS Free File program. Answer a few basic questions, and the IRS will help you pick from among free tax preparation options.
While those sites will help you prepare and file without charge, 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 often run from $10 to $40. So shop around, get your taxes right the first time, and keep both digital and hard copies when you file.
Free online filing and tax help for everyone
There are two components to IRS Free File -- the free preparation help for those with gross incomes at or below $57,000, and online filing that is free for everyone. If you're ready to fill out your own forms, use the IRS' Free File fillable forms instead of mailing in a paper version.
While using the fillable forms doesn't provide the step-by-step guidance of software or the personal touch of human volunteers, you're still not out in the cold. If you get stumped, you can always get free help from the IRS by visiting a local office or calling 800-829-1040.
Another option is IRS.gov. It has every tax publication and a searchable tax FAQ. Perhaps it's not the simplest thing to navigate, but you can't beat the price.
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