The cost of filing taxes can be prohibitive to those on fixed incomes. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free help out there for those who qualify.
That help could be in person or online, guided instruction or just handing over all your documents and waiting to sign off on the result.
Here’s what you need to know about free income tax filing help available for the 2023 tax filing season.
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IRS Free File
The IRS Free File program is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and seven brand-name tax software companies that donate their products and online filing services. Instead of buying the software yourself and purchasing updates, you get the service for free.
Free File is guided preparation; you don’t need to know any tax laws. All you have to do is answer simple prompts, then let the software do the math.
Generally speaking, IRS Free file is for individuals or households earning $73,000 or less each year. However, eligibility rules vary from provider to provider. All will take into account your income, age and state of residence. Some of these companies also provide free state income tax preparation.
The IRS Free File service is available in both English and Spanish. Those who don’t have computers can file with a tablet or even a smartphone.
For the 2023 tax season, the participating companies are 1040Now, ezTaxReturn.com, FileYourTaxes.com, FreeTaxUSA, On-Line Taxes, TaxAct and TaxSlayer.
Note: To use this free service, you must start at the IRS Free File page, not at the website of the income tax software provider that you choose. Otherwise, you will not be offered the free tax prep and filing option.
What if you earn more than $73,000 per year?
If that’s the case, you can use IRS Free File Fillable forms, which are the electronic version of IRS paper forms. You won’t get any tax preparation guidance, and only limited calculations are provided. This service is best for those who feel comfortable completing tax returns on their own.
A special program for the military
Although both active duty military and veterans can opt for one of the IRS Free File companies, another option exists. MilTax, which is run by the U.S. Department of Defense, has free tax preparation software and e-filing with no income limits.
It’s available for any active duty military members and also to some veterans. In addition to the no-income rule, MilTax has another advantage: It will prepare up to three state income tax returns free of charge.
The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program focuses on taxpayers who are older than 50 or who have moderate or low income. However, Tax-Aide will help taxpayers of any age and income level, and AARP membership is not required.
Its trained volunteers are IRS-certified each year to make sure they are up to date on changes or additions to the U.S. tax code. Most returns can be filed through Tax-Aide, as long as they are not too complex. (For a list of tax topics that can or can’t be included, visit the Tax-Aide website.)
Seven tax assistance models are available. Some of these options may not be available everywhere.
In-person. You go to a Tax-Aide site with your documents and the return is done at that time.
One-visit scan. You take your documents to a Tax-Aide site, where the volunteer makes a digital copy and stores it in IRS-provided software. The tax return gets prepared remotely, and the volunteer contacts you online to finish and file the return. Obviously, you need Internet access for this option.
Two-visit scan. You have your documents scanned and stored, as above, and a volunteer prepares your return. On the second visit, a volunteer helps you finish the return and provides a printed copy.
Drop-off. You go to a Tax-Aide site and leave your documents there so that a volunteer can prepare the return. You return to the site to finalize and file your taxes. You’re given a printed copy to take home along with your original tax documents.
No site visit. This option is particularly helpful for those with mobility or transportation issues. It requires you to make digital copies of your documents and upload them to the IRS-provided software. The return is done remotely, and a volunteer contacts you to finish and file. You’ll get a digital copy of the return. Again, you need Internet access for this option.
Coaching model. You prepare your own return online, with help and support from a Tax-Aide volunteer. Again, the volunteers are trained and fully up-to-date on any changes in the U.S. tax code. You can call on them throughout the tax preparation process.
Self-preparation. You do the return by yourself, using a free tax software product on the Tax-Aide website. This option is for those earning $73,000 a year or less.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly
Managed by the IRS, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free basic state and federal tax preparation to those who qualify.
The VITA program helps those earning less than $60,000, as well as people with disabilities and those for whom English is a second language. The TCE program caters to adults who are 60 and older and provides assistance with pension- and retirement-related tax issues.
Both VITA and TCE sites are staffed by IRS-certified volunteers. Their tax law training ensures that you can trust the help you’re being given; so does the quality review check that the IRS requires for each return prepared by these organizations.
Both programs tend to operate at libraries, malls, schools, community centers and other easily accessible sites across the country. Use the VITA locator tool to find the site nearest you. Most of the TCE programs are run through AARP’s TaxAide program. To find the closest location, use the AARP site locator tool.
Other potential help
Each U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has an Area Agency on Aging (AAA). These are public organizations or private nonprofits that are authorized to provide help to older Americans.
If you’re having trouble getting an appointment with any of the organizations listed above or find they can’t meet your needs, the AAA in your area might have information on other free or low-cost tax preparation options. To find the AAA in your region, use ElderCare.gov’s search tool.
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