MONEY Taxes

How to Get Free Tax-Prep Help This Filing Season

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More than two thirds of Americans can use online tax-prep software for free.

There’s a good chance you won’t have to spend a dime to get help preparing your federal tax return this year. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 70% of taxpayers are eligible for the IRS’s Free File program, which gives you free access to brand-name tax preparation software as long as your income is $62,000 or less. Depending on your financial situation and where you live, you may also be eligible for free state tax-prep help.

Thirteen tax-software companies participate in the program, including TurboTax, H&R Block, and Jackson Hewitt. Each has its own set of qualifications on top of the IRS’s guidelines, such as age limits and lower income cut-offs. For instance, H&R block’s Free File service is only for taxpayers age 17 to 50, while turboTax requires your income to be below $31,000. Not all of the software firms will help you prepare a state tax return for free either.

To find out which free tax-prep software you qualify for, use the IRS’s help me find free file software tool.

Even if you earn too much to qualify for the IRS program, you may be able to use tax software for free, as long as you have a simple tax return (for instance, if most or all of your income is from wages). If you’re filing either a 1040EZ or 1040A, you can do your taxes for free on TurboTax.

When a Computer Alone Won’t Cut It

While all the free software programs will walk you through filing your taxes, you are still doing your taxes solo, without a live professional to talk to. If you are uncomfortable going it alone or have complicated finances, Free File software might not provide enough service. In that case, see if you qualify for one of these free in-person programs.

Enlisted military members and their families can access free income tax filing help through most large military installations thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Sites that participate in the program have volunteers on hand who are trained by the IRS to handle military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone benefits. Contact your local installation for the location of tax centers.

The VITA program also makes IRS-certified volunteers available to people who earn $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speaking taxpayers.

All taxpayers over the age of 60 can receive free tax help through the IRS’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, which specializes in pension and retirement-related issues. The program connects seniors with IRS-certified volunteers, who are typically retirees connected with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.

To locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you, use the VITA locator tool or call 800-906-9887, or download the IRS2Go app on your smart phone.

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