How To Get Free Tax-Prep Help

What many taxpayers don’t know when they step into H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt or go to some tax-preparation site is that there are several thousand IRS-approved volunteers out there willing to do the job for free if you qualify.

For people earning less than $49,000 this year, there’s free tax help from the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. Meanwhile, for anyone 60 or older, there’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).

This search tool from the IRS (NOTE: the tool only provides info during tax season) covers many of the locations of VITA sites where taxpayers can get free assistance, which usually includes free e-filing for federal and state tax returns. If you can’t find a location on the list that’s close to your immediate area, call the VITA site locator number at 1-800-906-9887.

As part of the IRS-sponsored TCE Program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or click here to search.

Military personnel and their families have access to the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC), which oversees the operation of the military tax programs worldwide, and serves as the main conduit for outreach by the IRS to military personnel and their families. Volunteers are trained and equipped to address military specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and the effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit guidelines.

Taxpayers need to present the following items to have their returns prepared:

* Photo identification
* Valid Social Security cards for the taxpayer, spouse and dependents
* Birth dates for primary, secondary and dependents on the tax return
* Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, from all employers
* Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
* A copy of last year’s federal and state returns (if available)
* Bank routing numbers and account numbers (for direct deposit)
* Other relevant information about income and expenses
* Total paid for day care (if applicable)
* Day care provider’s identifying number (if applicable)

NOTE: To file taxes electronically on a Married Filing Jointly tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.

And remember that all taxpayers can seek free assistance at one of the 400 IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers nationwide. To search for the nearest Assistance Center, click here.

For Earned Income Tax Credit-eligible taxpayers, the IRS will open selected offices (CLICK HERE FOR LIST) on Saturday, Jan. 29, and Saturday, Feb. 5, to provide special assistance.

Free Tax Help Available Nationwide [IRS.gov]

Comments

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  1. PercyChuggs Was Found At JFK Airport says:

    I like these articles better when, in mid sentence, Tax Cat will say something “cat” like. Whoever wrote those posts should be the only one to don the Tax Cat moniker!

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Are these tax people as qualified as the guy I pay? Because saving $50 by losing out on hundreds in deductions is not worth it.

    • hotdogsunrise says:

      Maybe. A lot of students in law school volunteered for the VITA program. They may have had some tax experience, but they were rarely students with accounting degrees and never certified accountants (in my experience).

      But you may have certified accountants in these programs. I think you may be better off staying with your guy if you are satisfied.

      • Jezz1226 says:

        In my experience volunteering while at a law school, the vast majority of those actually do the tax returns had limited tax experience. However, there are a few “site coordinators” who have to check all the returns (and they checked them very thoroughly) and they tended to have accounting backgrounds (many having worked in the field, not just degrees) or other extensive tax experience. YMMV

    • Parade of Horribles says:

      Yes. The IRS trains and tests all VITA volunteers on-line, and most (possibly all) VITA sites also require that their volunteers go through in-person training and testing. VITA sites won’t prepare returns with tax issues that are outside the scope of the training.

      At my VITA site, we regularly helped clients amend returns that big-name paid preparers had gotten wildly wrong.

      • pandroid says:

        Last week I had a woman who had filed HOH for ’09 even though she was married and her husband was disabled! Luckily it didn’t make a difference for her particular return but I meant to check which preparer she’d used the year before… Ugh.

        Our center is mostly staffed by accounting students and retired accountants so I feel like people who come in get a pretty good deal.

    • edosan says:

      Frankly, if you have $50 to pay a preparer, you really aren’t the target market for VITA. I’ve volunteered for it in years past and the training is pretty basic, focusing on stuff that is important for low-income taxpayers.

  3. sendbillmoney says:

    I got voluntold to do this for awhile in the military. I remember people throwing absolute fits because they wanted to claim the costs of their internet connection, computer and textbooks (the latter not purchased at the school as a condition of attendance) as expenses toward their Hope or Lifetime Learning credits. Since it had to be a fee payable to the institution as a condition of attendance, I had to decline to plug that figure in.

    “But (insert commercial tax service) let me do it! Why are you disallowing it?”
    “I’m not disallowing anything, I just can’t knowingly assist you in preparing an inaccurate return.”

    I still have no love for (insert commercial tax service) as a result.

  4. Bsamm09 says:

    I did VITA as part of my Beta Alpha Psi (accounting honor society) service requirement in undergrad and grad school. There were some good people there. You will never (well rarely) find a CPA or EA because that is our busy season and we have to work 80-90 hrs a week.

  5. SecretAgentWoman says:

    Yeah, but those free places don’t offer refund anticipation loans, and take it from a former tax preparer, they want their money NOW and don’t see the $150-$200 charges they pay to get it fast, all they see is the money gets to them the next day or so!

    I learned early in life waiting 10 days for my refund (direct deposit) WAS worth $150 in my pocket. I even used to paper file my own and wait for a check in the early 90s.

  6. bkeyport says:

    Good part of my business is correcting returns done for free elsewhere. I love those places, it gets me double the revenue of returns done right the first time.

  7. DEVO says:

    Usually local colleges have student programs that will do it for free for units etc. Probably not a good idea though if it’s too complicated or you are trying to pull sketchy stuff.

  8. Punchy says:

    I’ve been volunteering for a low income tax assistance program for about 7 years, and although we get training & have a lot of retired tax proffessionals helping out, the program is not directed for people with who make $50K or anywhere near that amount. We are there to help LOW income families and people with disabilities. We see entire families that only make $10K/ year; so when we see someone coming in making $50K as an individual we think they are kind of a jerk for taking away resources from people who really deserve them, if it was up to us we would lower that amount by quite a bit. We will not be helping you get every deduction possible, because we are trained to help people who will be filling an EZ form & our training is around items like EIC & Additional child tax credits. The people who should be coming for the free tax help are not the type of people who read this site!

  9. goldenargo85 says:

    I’m a CPA and I have been volunteering for VITA for years. They generally have 1 person do the return and another review it. With that said I can only go off of the information people give me, and if that wrong then there return can be wrong as well. I see big name firms charging people big money per form that they have to do like $50 for a schedule B with just a bank account interest on it. I have seen some pretty creative ways to sneak a schedule C on there as well. My target audience for VITA is going to get taken for a ride by some big name preparer, Rapid Refund anticipation loans are total BS. Plus no one is forcing you to accept our help, I will tell you one thing H&R Block doesn’t have CPA’s doing your returns.

  10. jessjj347 says:

    I mentioned it on another tax cat article…but The Benefit Bank is also an online service to file taxes for free if your AGI is $60,000 or less. You can file yourself at https://selfserve.thebenefitbank.com/ or get the help of a trained counselor https://selfserve.thebenefitbank.com/ums?task=locator

    • goldenargo85 says:

      Also, The Benefit Bank has sites in Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. other states not so much at the monent