How to get free tax-preparation help
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The Internal Revenue Service offers eligible taxpayers free preparation of their tax returns. To qualify for this service, you generally must make $54,000 or less per year. In addition, persons with disabilities, limited English-speaking skills and the elderly qualify for free tax preparation.
The IRS offers two basic programs to help taxpayers who need help filing their taxes. The programs employ IRS-certified volunteers to help you file your return.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
The first, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, offers tax preparation to persons with disabilities, limited English-speaking skills or low- to-moderate incomes. VITA volunteers assist qualifying individuals and couples with free basic income tax preparation. Once filled out, the forms they prepare are filed electronically.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
The second program, called Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, offers tax help for the elderly and retirees who might need answers to questions about their pension or retirement-related issues. TCE caters specifically to individuals and couples 60 years of age or older. Many of the volunteers for the TCE program, who are retirees themselves, work through various nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
Finding a VITA or TCE site
You can find VITA and TCE sites at select community or neighborhood centers. These sites include libraries, schools, shopping malls and other easily accessible locations across the U.S. The TCE program in particular operates primarily with the help of the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide Program. In addition to volunteers, some sites also offer web-based tax preparation software for use by individuals wanting to prepare their own taxes. When looking for sites that offer the web-based programming on the AARP program’s website, look for locations listed as “Self-Prep.”
What VITA and TCE volunteers prepare
While VITA and TCE volunteers prepare a lot of different tax forms for filing with your return, they do not offer help with all tax forms. The various forms that IRS VITA or TCE volunteers prepare include:
- Form W-2: Wages and tax statement
- Form 1099-INT: Interest income
- Form 1099-DIV: Dividends received
- Form 1099-G: State tax refunds
- Form 1099-G: Unemployment benefits
- Form 1099-R: IRA distributions
- Forms 1099-R, RRB-1099 and CSA-1099: Pension income
- Form SSA-1099: Social Security benefits
- Form 1099-B: Simple capital gains or loss
- Form 1099-S: Sale of home (limited)
- Form 1099-MISC: Self-employed income (limited)
- Form W-2G: Gambling winnings
- Form 1099-C: Cancellation of debt (limited)
- Form 1099-SA: Health savings accounts (limited)
- Schedule A: Itemized deductions (limited)
- Form 1099-T: Education credits
- Forms 1095-A, B or C: Affordable Care Act statements
- Child tax credit
- Earned income credit
- Prior year and amended returns (limited)
There are certain, more complicated, forms that these volunteers do not prepare.
Items to bring to the VITA or TCE site
In order to facilitate quick service, you need to provide the certified volunteer tax preparers with certain documentation to aid in the preparation of your tax forms. When visiting a VITA or TCE site to have your taxes completed for free, bring the following items along with you:
- Photo ID
- Social Security card for the filers and their dependents, if any
- An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or assignment letter in lieu of a Social Security card if you or your dependents do not possess one
- Proof of foreign status, in the case of an ITIN
- Dates of birth for you, your spouse and your dependents
- Wage and earnings statements
- Statement from the bank showing any interest or dividend earned in the tax year
- Health insurance statements, including forms 1095-A, B, or C
- Health insurance exemption certificate
- A copy of state and federal returns for your previous year’s taxes
- The total you paid for any daycare, in addition to the daycare provider’s Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number
- Your bank account and routing number for the purpose of directly depositing your tax refund into your bank account.
When having your taxes completed at a VITA or TCE site, remember that both spouses filing a joint tax return must sign the completed return before it is filed electronically.
By taking advantage of the VITA or TCE program, you can save money when preparing your taxes — great for those on a low or fixed income. Are you getting a refund? Don’t blow it, but put it into a high-yield savings account instead.
Another online, no-cost option for tax return preparation is the IRS-endorsed Free File option for taxpayers whose adjusted gross incomes are $64,000 or less. The IRS says 70 percent of all Americans are eligible for Free File.