A good friend once told me, “Free is worth the paper it’s written on.” You’ve likely heard all the warnings about how there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Is this equally true when it comes to free tax preparation and tax filing services?
Let me give you some good news—there really are some terrific free services available in the tax preparation community!
In-person free tax filing
The folks who volunteer in the VITA and TCE community are enthusiastic, dedicated, and well trained to prepare the level of tax returns supported by this program. Volunteers include tax professionals (like enrolled agents), attorneys, CPAs, and accounting students, as well as amateurs who have gotten hooked on helping—and on taxes in general.
Seniors and low-income taxpayers can get face-to-face help at the VITA and TCE facilities. The AARP’s Tax-Aide team operates thousands of TCE facilities You will find sites all over the place—at colleges, libraries, religious institutions, community centers, and more. To locate one near you, call the IRS at 1-800-906-9887 or the AARP at 1-888-227-7669.
To locate special sites for members of the armed services who wish to receive free help with tax filing, contact the Armed Forces Tax Council to find a location on a base near you.
Online tax filing with commercial software
All the major tax services offer free federal tax return preparation for simpler tax returns (though you will have to pay for your state return). This year, most of your favorite tax software providers will even allow you print the return and/or e-file for free. Once you have the printed copy of your federally e-filed tax return, you can check your state’s tax department website to see if it has a way for you to e-file directly on its site. Many do.
In addition, the IRS’s Free File Alliance (FFA) is still alive and well—but you can probably find more free services on the participants’ main websites than on their FFA sites. Also, if you start a tax return on a participant’s FFA site and it exceeds the free level, you will have to start over and re-enter the information on the participant’s main site anyway.
Free tax filing from the IRS
The IRS has two more ways for you to file your taxes for free. First, you can access many forms on the IRS’s “Free Fillable Files” page. Second, for people who don’t have access to their own computers, the IRS provides a service at a number of community sites, called Facilitated Self-Assistance Sites, where you can use its computers instead—and perhaps even get a little personal guidance. The IRS website offers a complete list of the locations of these sites.
Is filing taxes for free a good idea?
For relatively simple tax returns, absolutely! For tax returns involving earned income tax credits or elderly-related benefits and issues? You bet!
And when it comes to military issues? It’s important to know that there are rules related to state taxes that give members of the armed forces special benefits. Volunteers may have the answers, but perhaps, for state issues, you’ll want to get help from an expert tax professional instead.
Eva Rosenberg, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com®, where your tax questions are answered. She teaches tax professionals how to represent you when you have tax problems. She is the author of several books and e-books, including Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Follow her on Twitter: @TaxMama