Countdown to Tax Day: Free & Low-Cost Tax Resources

Posted February 8, 2011 in Uncategorized by

I think the axiom, "Know your limits," is great all-purpose advice. I know that I’m able to diagnose and treat a cold, for example, but I wouldn’t attempt to set a broken bone. The same is true for tax preparation. I’d never hire a paid tax preparer before at least attempting to do my taxes on my own – and you shouldn’t either.

     
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Fortunately, those paid tax preparers have a lot of free and low-cost competition. Even if you decide that you need some expert advice, there are plenty of tax resources available to you.

Get Answers to Your Tax Questions

The Internal Revenue Service: For as much as we joke about the IRS being a dense, confusing and sometimes evil government agency, they really have a wealth of resources on their website – everything from tax forms and publications to frequently asked questions and tax tips. When I have a tax question, this is the first place I turn because the information is comprehensive and I trust the source.

IRS tax help line (800-829-1040): Can’t find what you need on the IRS site or don’t have easy internet access? IRS employees are also available to answer your question over the phone.

IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center: For face-to-face assistance with tax issues, or for the answers to questions that can’t be answered online or through the IRS tax help line, visit the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in your area.

About.com’s tax preparation information: If you’re having trouble understanding the information on the IRS’s website or just want another option, About.com has a lot of income tax information.

Personal finance blog WalletPop.com: This is another site that’s chock full of tax-time tips and links to other resources.

Prepare & File Your Return

Out of habit, many of us turn to tax preparation companies such as Jackson Hewitt or software such as TurboTax. But these days there are many free software packages that enable you to prepare and electronically file your federal return. Additionally, many states also have options that allow you to prepare and file your state tax return.

Before opening your wallet for help preparing and filing your tax return, try one of the free options. If you don’t like the results, you can always double-check it by using another one of the free services before you file.

Help Preparing and Filing Returns, and Resolving Tax Disputes

Here’s a little secret: If you’re elderly, in the military or simply low- or middle-income, a volunteer is probably willing to prepare and file your tax return – for free. My mom was a volunteer tax return preparer for years, and the service she worked with even supplied a stamped, addressed envelope in which to mail your return.

If you’re just starting to look for free tax prep help, be prepared to call around. Many services will have been taking appointments for weeks, so you may have to contact a few services before you find one that’s able to help you.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program: This program, run by the IRS, offers free tax-return assistance for filers who have income of $49,000 or less and are unable to prepare their own taxes. (VITA also works with the Armed Forces Tax Council, which helps prepare tax returns for members of the military.)

AARP Tax-Aide: AARP offers free help with federal and state tax returns for low and middle-income taxpayers. (You don’t have to be a senior to qualify.)

Catholic Charities: In many areas, Catholic Charities provides free tax returns preparation assistance. Contact your local branch for information and assistance.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program: These volunteers provide free and low-cost assistance with tax disputes, including representation in court or before the IRS.

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