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.
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.”)
Use the IRS online locator tool to learn when and where to find free TCE tax preparation help and whether you’ll need an appointment or can walk in. Or you can call 800-906-9887. The IRS website also provides a list of what to take with you to the appointment.
To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax-Aide site, use AARP’s online locator or call 888-227-7669.
Want to be an AARP volunteer tax preparer? Learn more and sign up.
AARP has additional resources and information on federal taxes.
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.
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.”
The IRS offers an infographic showing how Free File works.
Free File Alliance’s FAQ webpage answers many questions.
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
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.
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.
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