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.
1. 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. It's also likely to be more reliable than many tax settlement firms.
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 it has 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.
2. 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.
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.
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
Note that the IRS has suffered funding cuts in recent years so there could be a long waiting list for help. Don't leave this option for the last minute.
3. Community-Based Free Tax Preparation
The IRS trains volunteers to help you file your tax returns.The main benefit to this program, compared to 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, check the IRS website's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance page or call 800-906-9887.
4. 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 from college and wonder which 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.
5. Taxpayer Advocate Service Office
The IRS's taxpayer advocate service is for when you have a larger issue than filing a return. This service helps businesses and individuals, regardless of income level, who are having long-term problems with a tax issue, such as trying to resolve a tax question from the previous year.
6. Free Tax Software
No matter what your income level, a number of companies offer free, basic tax software: TaxAct, TaxSlayer, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and TurboTax. There's also IRS Free File, which first opened in Jan. 2019.
What can be expected from free tax software? The program will calculate your taxes, deductions and credits, and electronically file your taxes. State-tax filing may not be 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.
The Bottom Line
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. (For related reading, see "Top Software to Prepare Taxes Free")