Whether you are filing a simple tax return, trying to amend previous years' returns or owe money to the IRS, you may qualify for free tax help. From community-based services to free software, there are many ways to avoid doing your taxes on your own. In the following article, we look at six sources that will help you with your taxes - for free.
- Free or Inexpensive Legal Clinics
Have you seen a bunch of commercials lately that are about settling past tax debt for a fraction of what you owe, yet you still can't afford the fees? The local university law school could help. It may have a free or inexpensive legal clinic that takes on tax settlement cases for free or a minimal fee, depending on your income.
The free or reduced-fee tax clinics are staffed with law students who have licensed attorneys as advisors. The law student gains experience while you gain free or inexpensive tax help.
If you have old tax debt and can't afford an attorney to negotiate with the IRS to reduce the amount you owe, call your local university's law school and ask if they have a tax clinic. If so, ask about maximum income levels to qualify for assistance, waiting time to get an appointment, what fees are charged and what kind of cases are handled. You may get lucky and hire a student attorney for $25 to take on your tax settlement case. (For more, see Give Your Taxes Some Credit.)
- IRS Tax Offices
If you meet income requirements, IRS employees will help you file your current, amended or past year's returns. Check the IRS website for current income requirements, since it can vary each year. If you qualify, you will need to call your local IRS office to set up an appointment. To find the number for your local office, follow this link for the IRS local contact page.
When you go to your appointment, you will want to bring the following:
- Your W-2s for the year(s) you need help filing
- Two forms of ID, normally your driver's license and social security card
- Bank statements
- Investment or savings accounts statements
- Mortgage statements
If you don't meet income requirements for an IRS representative to help you file your return, you can still make an appointment to ask unlimited questions without a charge. You just won't be able to have the agent file your return for you.
- Community-Based Free Tax Preparation
The IRS trains volunteers to help you file your tax returns.The main benefit to this program versus getting help at the IRS tax office is that the location of the volunteer site may be closer to your home. While there is an income limit for most individual taxpayers for this programs, volunteers help current members of the Armed Forces for free. To find a location call the IRS help line.
- IRS Help Lines
The IRS has a phone line where anyone, regardless of income level, can call with tax questions: 800-829-1040. You could call in a dozen or more times with different questions, but you would probably get transferred to several different representatives if you did. The IRS has specialists for different types of questions.
For example, let's say you just graduated college and wonder what education tax credits or deductions you qualify to claim on your taxes. The IRS operator would transfer you to a person who specializes in this issue. You can also order forms or have previous year's W-2s sent to you. This service is useful if you didn't file a past tax return or you want to amend an older return and misplaced your W-2s. (For more, see How Do I Use The IRS Free File Tax Forms?)
- Taxpayer Advocate Service Office
The IRS's tax payer advocate service is for when you have a larger issue than filing return. This service helps businesses and individuals, regardless of income level, who are having long-term issues with a tax issue, such as trying to resolve a tax issue from the previous year.
- Free Tax Software
No matter what your income level, several companies offer free, basic tax software: TaxACT, Free File, and TurboTax.
What can be expected from the free version? In the free version, you can expect the program to calculate your taxes, deductions and credits, and electronically file your taxes. State taxes are never available on a free version. You should always read the description of the program to make sure it handles more complicated tasks if you need them, such as business expenses for those that are self-employed. If the free versions don't include the features you need, you should compare prices over the internet for a product that does.
You don't have to file your taxes by yourself if you don't make enough to hire an accountant or pay for software. You may be able to get free help from the IRS tax offices and phone line, volunteer tax preparation centers and free versions of popular tax preparation programs.