It's that time of year again. The holidays are over, winter has set in and your annual tax paperwork has begun arriving. Once you've gathered all the necessary information to file your tax returns, there are several options for filing your taxes for free. These free options are great, particularly if you have a simple return or just need a little extra help in filing your taxes.
Prepare Them Yourself
Preparing your taxes by yourself is the least expensive method of filing. The IRS has an outstanding website where you can download any form(s) you might need, as well as instruction sheets. The site also has a "fill-in-forms" area if you are filing a simple return like the 1040EZ. While this area does add income, it will not calculate the return for you, nor does it do depreciation - those calculations are up to you.
You can also find most of the commonly used IRS forms at post offices, public libraries, senior centers, banks, credit unions and even some grocery stores.
Free Software and Free File
The IRS has teamed with a number of tax preparing services and software companies to provide free tax service for many Americans. Receiving free service means you must meet certain qualifications to be eligible such as earning less than $57,000 per year, being between the ages of 23 and 55 and other qualifiers. Each tax service has slightly different eligibility requirements. You'll need to visit their websites to see which one(s) might be right for you.
The below list of providers is working in conjunction with the IRS. Many of these providers had already offered free tax preparation for those filing an EZ form. If you need additional forms or are filing a more complex tax return, all of them offer additional services for a fee. (For more help filing your taxes, check out 10 Steps To Tax Preparation.)
In order to take advantage of the free file tax preparation services, you must begin your taxes through the IRS website or you won't receive the free filing services.
VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance for Americans) is eligible to those who earned less than $50,000 last year. The volunteers are IRS-certified and give free basic tax preparation. VITA sites are usually at community centers, libraries, senior centers and shopping malls. Many VITA locations also offer free eFiling. To find a VITA site go to their website and simply type in your zip code. A list of VITA sites will be provided.
TCE - Tax Counseling for the Elderly
If you are aged 60 or older, you are eligible for assistance with your taxes from TCE. Volunteers who help with this program are well versed in taxes where pensions, social security and retirement issues are a priority. TCE is funded with grant money provided by the IRS. AARP has a link on its website to help find locations for TCE providers in your area.
Tax Aide Counseling
Part of the TCE program is Tax Aide Counseling and is provided to taxpayers over the age of 60 by AARP. The service is aimed at low-income seniors who need tax assistance or counseling. Visit their website at AARP Foundation or call 1-800-829-1040 for more information and locations of these service providers.
Military One Source is partnered with H&R Block to provide tax filing services for members of the U.S. military. If you are military and interested in this service, you must begin your tax return at the Military One Source/H&R Block at Home site. You can also call a tax consultant at 1-800-342-9647.
The Bottom Line
There are many options available for free tax assistance. Links to all of the providers that have been certified and approved by the IRS can be found on their website. As with any service provider, take the necessary precautions when giving out vital information such as your social security number. Use only those providers approved by the IRS, and if you have any doubt as to the validity of a provider, call the IRS for verification 1-800-876-1715. (For help filing your taxes, read Personal Income Tax Guide.)