Tax hacks 2018: 7 ways to get your taxes done for free

The countdown to the tax deadline has begun: This year, Tax Day is April 17. If you need help preparing state and federal tax forms, now is the time to get started.

Many Americans will pay someone to help them prepare and file a return. That is probably a worthwhile expense for some. But “free” is the best price for many others.

So, before you go out and throw down several hundred bucks, check out these gratis alternatives. Many national programs charge nothing to help taxpayers prepare and file their taxes. See whether your tax situation and income meet qualifications for these seven free programs:

1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

The free IRS-sponsored program VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) uses trained volunteers to help taxpayers complete basic state and federal tax returns.

Who’s eligible: Generally, taxpayers earning $54,000 a year or less, those with disabilities and people with limited English-language abilities, according to the IRS.

Resources:

  • Use this online locator tool to learn when and where to find free VITA tax preparation help (and help from the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program) and whether you’ll need an appointment or can walk in. Or call 800-906-9887. The IRS website has a list of what to take to your appointment.

  • “Self-prep” is an alternative. You prepare and file your own basic state and federal tax forms using web-based tax software and with help from an IRS-certified volunteer. The option is available at VITA locations that list “Self-Prep” in the site listing.

  • Want to volunteer to help low- and moderate-income families with their taxes? The IRS will train you. Find out more at the IRS website.

2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly

IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax preparation to older taxpayers through TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly). Many of the volunteers are retired people associated with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.

The IRS says a majority of TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide Program.

Who’s eligible: The IRS says the program “offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older.” (AARP says it offers “individualized tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers — especially those 50 and older.”)

Resources:

3. IRS Free File

Free File is a partnership between the IRS and makers of commercial tax-preparation software participating in the IRS Free File program. Depending on your level of income, eligible taxpayers get free use of one of the following:

  • Free File, a secure, free-of-charge brand-name tax preparation software that includes help with state returns.

  • Free File fillable forms. State tax preparation is not included.

Who’s eligible: If your income is below $66,000, you qualify to use the Free File tax preparation software.

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah. Click here to sign up for our free newsletter.

If your income is above that mark, you are limited to using the free, fillable, electronic versions of paper forms. These forms will do your tax math for you, but you only receive basic guidance.

Rules vary among the tax software companies participating in Free File. The Press Enterprise, a news organization serving inland Southern California, urges you to “be aware that those providers offer upsells for a fee including state income tax preparation and insurance.”

Resources:

RELATED: Check out these five super simple ways to lower your taxes:

4. Tax preparation companies’ free services

Several commercial tax-preparation companies offer free, basic online versions of their software. The major benefit with any free tax service is in the money you save. However, these services have limitations, which vary by product:

  • Some don’t offer free help with state returns.

  • Free products are for simple tax situations. Before using a free product, check the company’s website to compare the free product with costs and features of the company’s paid products.

  • You might run into hidden fees. For example, you might be charged a convenience fee if you pay your tax bill using a credit card.

5. United Way: My Free Taxes

My Free Taxes is a United Way program that offers free tax help using H&R Block software. Help is free with both state and federal tax forms. Support is available in English and Spanish.

Who’s eligible: Individuals or families with a combined household income of under $66,000 are eligible for free help.

6. More free IRS resources

You can get other kinds of free help from the IRS. For example, visit a local taxpayer assistance office — use this locator to find one near you.

You can also phone the IRS for help at 800-829-1040. Or, search online at IRS.gov for tax forms and publications.

The IRS website also offers information on:

7. Money Talks News ‘Tax Hacks’

Money Talks News has a lot of articles on tax topics. Search the Money Talks News website for “Taxes.” Or, if you’re having trouble with tax debt, check out “Get Help With Tax Debt” in the Money Talks News Solutions Center.

Do you think paying for tax preparation help is worth it? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Your resource on tax filing
Tax season is here! Check out the Tax Center on AOL Finance for all the tips and tools you need to maximize your return.
When are Taxes Due? Important Tax Deadlines and Dates
Make sure your calendar is up-to-date with these important deadlines, dates, possible extensions and other factors in play for both individuals and businesses in 2021.
Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.com
Guide to Filing Taxes as Head of Household
The IRS has provided a series of guidelines to help taxpayers understand whether or not they qualify to file as head of household.
Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.com
Tax Tips After January 1, 2022
Your tax bill isn't chiseled in stone at the end of the year. Here are 10 tax tips and steps you can take after January 1 to help you lower your taxes, save money when preparing your tax return, and avoid tax penalties.
Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.com
Birth of a Child
The birth of a child is not just a blessed event; it's the beginning of a whole new set of tax breaks for your family. Learn how the newest addition to your family can help trim your tax bill, and how to save for your child's future in the most tax-efficient manner.
Read MoreBrought to you byTurboTax.com