How to Get Free Tax Preparation Services

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Many taxpayers are aware of the free 1040-EZ filing services that tax preparation software companies like TurboTax and H&R Block offer, but they might not know that they also qualify for completely free tax filing services for all of their federal and state tax forms. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speaking taxpayers in need of assistance. This tax support often comes in the form of on-site assistance, but online tax preparation and filing assistance is also an option.

The VITA program

The VITA program was founded by Gary Iskowitz at California State University Northridge in 1971. The original idea was that accounting students would provide local taxpayers with free tax return preparation, providing an educational experience for the students as well as an important community service. VITA has since grown into a nationwide program serving millions of taxpayers with the help of IRS-certified volunteers as well as students. The IRS also runs a VITA grant program designed to enable VITA programs to extend services to underserved populations in urban and non-urban communities.

Tax support for the elderly

Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a related program offering free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older. The TCE program specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. Volunteers for the TCE program are often retired individuals who work with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. The majority of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Tax Aide Program, which offers tax preparation help to people ages 60 and up with low to moderate incomes. Tax preparation from IRS-certified AARP volunteers is available from February 1 to April 15 at more than 6,500 locations.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

On-site tax assistance

For in-person support, VITA and TCE locations generally include libraries, schools, churches, malls, community centers, and other convenient area locations. While available services vary by location, VITA sites are generally open for drop-ins and appointments on evenings and weekends throughout the normal tax season. To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, you can call 1-800-906-9887 or search for the closest location online using the IRS free tax help locator. For an AARP Tax Aide program location, you can use AARP’s online locator tool.

Before visiting a VITA or TCE site, see Publication 3676-B for a full description of the services provided, or expressly not provided, by IRS-certified volunteers. This document also includes a list of what to bring with you, such as proof of identification, a copy of last year’s tax return, proof of account for direct deposit of refund, and all W-2 and 1099 forms you received.

Online tax assistance

At select VITA and TCE tax assistance sites, taxpayers also have the option to prepare their own basic federal and state tax return for free using online tax preparation software with the additional guidance of an IRS-certified volunteer. For those comfortable completing and filing their returns online without the help of an in-person volunteer, uses H&R Block software to provide free online tax software to qualifying taxpayers in accordance with VITA. The IRS also provides a list of free online filing options, but each company sets its own eligibility criteria, and many of them only offer the federal 1040 or 1040-EZ form at no cost. Some companies do not cover the cost of state returns or additional forms, such as those for self-employed individuals.

MyFreeTaxes software includes all the necessary forms for self-employed individuals as well as other taxpayers in need of other tax forms in addition to the 1040. This service also allows taxpayers to file up to three state returns at no cost. If your household income is less than $60,000, you should be eligible to file with MyFreeTaxes, which also offers assistance via live chat support on its website and over the phone. The MyFreeTaxes Partnership, sponsored by the Walmart Foundation and in cooperation with Goodwill Industries International, National Disability Institute, and United Way, has been campaigning since 2009 to bring awareness to the availability of free tax help provided by VITA and TCE through both in-person and online assistance.

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