Whether you are filing a simple tax return, trying to amend previous years’ returns, or owe money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may qualify for free tax advice. From free software to community-based services, there are plenty of ways to get help with your taxes at no charge. Here are nine sources of free tax advice.
- Free tax help from a variety of sources is available to filers as well as taxpayers with a dispute.
- It includes free versions of popular online software, volunteer tax preparation and online counseling, legal clinics, and IRS phone lines as well as offices.
- Free advice and tax preparation help, as well as software, generally address relatively simple tax returns; if yours has complications, you will likely have to purchase software or professional assistance.
1. Free Tax Software
If the goal is to prepare a relatively simple return and you're comfortable doing so online, a number of companies offer free, basic software for taxpayers of any income level.
For taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less as of the 2021 tax year, the best way to access these is from the IRS Free File site, which lists free offerings from pre-approved providers that are in some cases more extensive than those available directly from the companies.
Taxpayers of any income level can also use IRS Free File to fill out and file electronically online tax forms directly from the IRS, though these offer no guidance and only limited calculations.
The free guided preparation software from private providers will calculate your basic taxes, deductions, and credits and electronically file your return. Some of the programs will only report items such as freelance income or mortgage deductions at an additional cost while others include these in their free offerings. State tax filings may also cost extra. You should always read the description of the program to make sure it handles more complicated tasks, such as business expenses for those who are self-employed, if you need them. Direct providers of free tax software include:
- H&R Block
- Cash App Taxes
If the free versions don’t include the features you need, compare prices over the internet for a product that does.
2. Community-Based Free Tax Preparation
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs train volunteers to prepare tax returns for taxpayers age 60 and older, members of the military, and those with low or moderate incomes, disabilities, or limited English. The annual income limit for those who don't qualify otherwise is $58,000 or less.
These programs are hosted by IRS community partners and staffed by IRS-certified volunteers. They will prepare basic returns but do not handle more complicated ones including, for example, home office deductions or complex capital gains and losses schedules.
To find a VITA or TCE location, use the IRS locator tool or call 800-906-9887.
Counseling Appointment Checklist
For married filing jointly returns, both spouses must attend. Taxpayers should bring:
- Government identifications
- Social Security cards or other taxpayer identification documents for dependents and jointly filing spouses
- A copy of the prior year's return and other tax documentation
3. AARP Foundation's Tax-Aide Program
Anyone can use the in-person and virtual tax assistance offered by the AARP Foundation, though the program's primary focus is on taxpayers over the age of 50 and those with low or moderate incomes. An AARP membership is not required. This program's volunteer counselors are also certified by the IRS. The program's website provides an office locator service as well as access to online tax preparation with counselors.
4. Military OneSource Tax Resource Center
The Military OneSource tax resource center operated by the U.S. Defense Department provides free tax preparation software, live chat help, and referrals to military tax consultants for service members and some veterans. It also has a locator tool for VITA counselors with expertise in military tax issues coordinated through the U.S. military.
5. Free Legal Clinics
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics are free or low-cost based on income eligibility and can help taxpayers in disputes with the IRS. They also provide education and outreach to speakers of English as a second language. The income ceilings for eligibility in 2021 were $32,200 for a single taxpayer, $43,550 for a couple, and $66,250 for a family of four in the 48 contiguous US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics typically help only when the sum in dispute is below $50,000. The IRS provides a locator tool to find the nearest clinic. Many of the offices have transitioned to remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. IRS Interactive Tax Assistant
Taxpayers can query the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant on a variety of topics. It can determine based on input if you have to file a tax return, claim a dependent or deduct an expense. The entries are not stored, shared, or associated with a particular user.
7. IRS Help Lines
Taxpayers with specific questions can call the IRS at 800-829-1040. There are separate phone help numbers for businesses, non-profit taxes, estate, and gift taxes, excise taxes, and overseas callers, along with a long list of topics IRS phone representatives will not address.
Wait times can average 13 minutes during the January to April tax-filing season and 19 minutes in May through December, according to the IRS, though the agency notes some service lines may have longer waits. The Presidents Day weekend and the runup to the April tax filing deadline are especially busy, as are Mondays and Tuesdays. Calling later in the week soon after the lines open (typically at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. local time) may shorten the wait for an answer.
IRS phone lines were swamped in 2021 with a record 282 million calls, nearly triple the prior year's total, extending wait times to 23 minutes on average for the 32 million callers who got through to a representative.
8. IRS Tax Offices
If you have tax issues that can’t be resolved online or over the phone, you can contact your IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to set up an in-person appointment. The IRS instructions page for scheduling such visits provides a locator tool to find your local office.
9. Taxpayer Advocate Service
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS charged with representing the interests of taxpayers on the whole and helping those whose tax problems are causing financial difficulty. It may intervene on behalf of taxpayers whose efforts to resolve a problem through normal channels have been unsuccessful, or who believe the process hasn't worked as it should. TAS helps businesses as well as individuals regardless of income level.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to file your taxes by yourself if you can't or won’t hire an accountant or pay for software. You may be able to get free help from volunteer tax preparation centers and free versions of popular tax preparation programs, as well as the Internal Revenue Service website, call centers, and offices.