FREE tax help is closer than you think, probably right in your neighborhood. IRS-sponsored tax preparation programs can help you complete and electronically file your tax return for free, and will share information about tax credits and deductions for which you may qualify.
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free tax help to people who generally make $52,000 or less. There are IRS-certified volunteers at all VITA and TCE sites who are trained in basic tax law. Many locations have volunteers who speak other languages and can assist those who have difficulty communicating in English. Volunteers are also available to help visitors complete and file their own returns.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program offers free tax assistance for all with priority assistance to people who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors.
At select tax sites, you have an option to prepare your own free basic federal and state tax return using Web-based tax preparation software this year. This is helpful if you do not want to wait in line or need a little help to get started or do not have access to a computer or the internet.
In addition to free tax return preparation assistance, VITA and TCE sites provide free electronic filing. The IRS has partnerships with many nonprofit groups, government agencies and organizations that host tax preparation sites in local communities. With thousands of these sites throughout the nation, there is a very good chance there’s one conveniently located near you.
As a supplement to the traditional face-to-face approach for return preparation, some IRS partners have leveraged the power of technology to provide increased access to free tax preparation for individuals and families. Known as Virtual VITA/TCE, this program uses video chat software and secure file sharing technology to connect taxpayers and volunteer preparers in different geographic locations.
Partners establish a convenient location for you to complete the required paperwork (including a consent form outlining the process). Your information is then securely transmitted (by scanner, fax, etc.) to an IRS-certified volunteer at another location to complete the return. To guide you through the return preparation process, you’ll be able to communicate “virtually” with the preparer using video chat software or other technology provided by the sites.
So, how do you find these free help sites? The locations and hours of operation of sites near you can be found once tax filing season begins using the VITA locator tool on www.IRS.gov and on the IRS2Go mobile application. The VITA/TCE sites will begin to appear on the locator tool approximately three weeks before they are scheduled to open. Most sites open around the end of January. You can typically find locations and hours for these volunteer tax preparation sites through city and local community organization hotlines. You can also call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-906-9887.
If you have additional questions or want guideance through the process, you can always contact me as well.
Jéneen R. Perkins is a freelance accountant and consultant serving entrepreneurs, families and small businesses. She prides herself in being fluent in English instead of “Accountant-ese”.
"Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is" is a journal about real life experiences and answers to tough tax questions posed to Jéneen R. Perkins, Owner of Eclat Enterprises, LLC