I’ve received a bunch of questions this tax season asking where to go for free help. And I’ve got some answers for you. But, first things first: sometimes, you get what you pay for. If your return is a bit complicated – or if your situation is out of the ordinary – take a moment to consider hiring a paid preparer.
Please remember that many of these free options rely on (1) your ability to make sense of your own financial information and (2) volunteers who are trained to assist in completing basic returns. If you struggle with numbers or if your return includes a Schedule C, Schedule E or the word “depreciation” – maybe these options aren’t for you.
Get your own forms. This year, the IRS is not mailing forms to you. If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll need to order a paper tax form by phone (call 1-800-829-3676) or pick up one at your post office. You can also download tax forms from the IRS web site.
Fill-In Forms. Free File Fillable Forms are blank versions of IRS forms. With Free File, you can pick and choose your necessary schedules; fill in your tax information online; do some basic math; and then print your return and mail or e-file. Easy peasy – assuming that your return isn’t complicated.
Free Tax Software. If you didn’t win the CompleteTax tax software in our tax trivia game, you’ve got one more chance to win free tax software this week. Keep checking. But if you’re desperate to get started before then, consider using one of the free tax software packages available through the big providers like CompleteTax, TurboTax and H&R Block. Keep in mind that these are basic, basic returns – of your 1040EZ variety.
If your return is simple, you can also file through I-Can E-File. With I-Can, you can e-file a federal return (with some limitations) as well as state returns for California, Michigan, Montana, New York, or Pennsylvania.
If your AGI is $57,000 or less for 2009, you can use Free File. With Free File, you can e-file or file an extension with the click of a mouse.
If you made less than $58,000 in 2009, then you can file for free online with My Free Taxes, sponsored by the Walmart Foundation.
Walmart Foundation and One Economy is also offering free in person services via a traveling tax service. You can find out when they’ll be pulling up in your town here.
You may also qualify for free in person services through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). VITA offers free tax help to those taxpayers who make around $49,000 or less. The rules from center to center can vary, so be sure and check the criteria before you arrive. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1.800.829.1040.
The military also offers a VITA program through the Armed Forces Tax Council. The volunteers at these centers are trained to deal with issues that might affect the military and their families such as EITC and combat zone tax benefits. Call 1.800.829.1040 for more information or to locate a center near you.
The AARP Tax-Aide program is a great alternative for taxpayers aged 60 or above with simple returns. Generally, this means a form 1040 with Schedules A and B only, offered at approximately 6,500 locations nationwide in senior centers, libraries, community centers, and at other convenient locations. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, visit their web site. And as last year, I don’t make the rules – I don’t know who decided that 60 = senior.
Some cities and states offer free tax help, as well. Chicago has announced that families earning less than $45,000 and individuals earning less than $20,000 can get free tax preparation assistance through the Tax Counseling Project and the Tax Assistance Program. To find a location near you, in Chicago, call 311. Outside Chicago, local residents can call 312-409-1555 or 312-630-0273.
I’ll continue to post info as I become aware of it – and feel free to add your own in the comments.