File your income taxes for free.

Programs like the IRS sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, Tax Counseling for the Elderly, and the AARP Tax-Aide help lower to moderate income families as well as senior citizens file their income tax returns for free. There are also online websites as well as software programs that can help. They all provide some form of advice around deductions, credits (including earned income), and other scenarios. Some of the assistance is even for so called “moderate income” families as the guidelines are fairly generous. There are also specialists who work with the client and help them prepare their taxes for free; this is in addition to the filing services.

As part of these software or charitable programs, households are given access to a variety of support services, ranging from tips on applying for income tax credits as well as information on deductions, free e-filing, information on government benefits and more. Many of the programs are provided by highly trained volunteers, who are certified by the IRS. Hundreds of thousands of low to middle income families take advantage of these services each year.

Trying to navigate the income tax system can be intimidating for many people. The process is even becoming more complicated with the ever changing rules and regulations to both state and federal income tax rates and terms. Many people, no matter their educational level or how much financial literacy they have, are wary of doing their own taxes. Asking for free help is generally a good idea.

There are a few different options that people have as noted below. Each of them is free, but they do have different criteria as well as application processes. All of the free assistance programs are volunteer-driven, and it also aims to alert people to all available tax credits as well as deductions that they may not have previously known about or filed for. Since the code is constantly evolving, and new credits as well as deductions are always being added at the federal government level, it can be all but impossible to keep up. The government supported programs will help those consumers who need it most keep that money.

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

VITA is available through the benefits.gov website. To access this service you need to either make less than $54,000 per year, have a disability, be at least 65 years old or speak limited English. You only need to meet one of those requirements to be eligible.

This is a service that you go to in person, and is available on a drop-in basis. Volunteer tax professionals staff temporary locations throughout the country. These are usually at local libraries, community centers, shopping malls or schools. You can verify your eligibility and search for a location near you all in one step by visiting the benefits.gov website. You won't need to fill out an application, but you should make sure you are eligible before visiting.

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help and will prepare state or federal returns for people who earn less than about $60,000 per year (depending on family size). VITA volunteers save hundreds of thousands of families millions of dollars per year in total. More on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

 

 

 

 

Tax Counseling for the Elderly

Tax Consulting for the Elderly is another program offered through benefits.gov, but this one is exclusively for people aged 60 and older. This is another program that has you visit a location somewhere near where you live, where you will speak with volunteers who are specially trained to handle tax issues that are common to older Americans. As with the VITA program, you can do a search at the benefits.gov website to find locations in and around your zip code.

Another option is the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program (TCE), which offers information as well as advice. As part of this, highly trained staff will also prepare returns to taxpayers who are 60 and older. The last option is to of course do it yourself (DIY), and the IRS offers software for that. Continue with Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide

Though the AARP generously funds this free program, you don't need to be a member - in fact, you don't even need to be retired or a senior! The Tax-Aide program begins on February 1 every year and is available to anyone who needs tax assistance.

This is another program that brings volunteer tax prep experts together with low- and moderate-income individuals at various community meeting places. They specialize in the common needs of those 50 and older, but there is no minimum age to receive assistance. Volunteers assist with both federal and state taxes; in some cases, they can even help with returns in neighboring states.

You can search by zip code at the AARP website to find locations near you. Then just give each location a call to find out what their hours of availability will be for the upcoming week. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is also available, and this is for both members of AARP as well as people who are not even members. The free advice, preparation, and filing is also for individuals of all ages; not just seniors or retirees. For details, dial 888-687-2277.

Free Online Income Tax Filing Services and Software

The IRS also has free income tax preparation and filing software. This is both for federal and state returns. The income guidelines are also generally higher, and the total household income can be under the $70,000 range. This option is generally best for a “simple” return, such as one without investments, deductions, etc.

Many software as well as online companies, including but not limited too TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, Credit Karma and others allow households to prepare and file their taxes for free. Many of the websites as well as software programs do not have income restrictions. However they are more useful for completing simple returns. The free services can often help families identify deductions, file for Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), process income from freelance jobs, and they software helps with other filing questions. Find more details on free income tax software and websites.

Additional information on applying for free tax returns or advice

The services are available to many people and they may not even realize they qualify as the income criteria are very “generous”. Across the nation hundreds of thousands of individuals benefit from this free income tax filing program.

 

 

 

 

To apply for free tax returns near you from volunteers and other non-profit organizations, use the tools above. Or it is recommended that taxpayers call their local community action agency. These non-profit organizations may sometimes coordinate the programs in your local community. If they are not the lead agency, they will usually be able to direct you to who to contact for more information. As the fact is that the IRS supported income tax filing programs may be offered by thousands of different charities, including faith based groups, churches, private businesses, and other non-profits.

 

By Jon McNamara

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