Tax time is hard upon us. If you haven’t yet filed you’re not alone. Tax laws have become more complicated and in a tight economy, you don’t want to make mistakes. For those who are struggling with complicated forms and unclear about what can be deducted and what can’t, free tax help is available. That’s right, free tax help! Even if your tax issues aren’t complex and you just need help understanding and filing the proper forms, there’s free help for that too.
Here are a couple of great resources to look to for free tax help.
The VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is available to taxpayers earning $52,000 a year or less. Certified by the IRS, VITA workers will help with filing of individual tax returns. Usually based in local community or neighborhood centers, shopping malls and libraries, they help with forms and explain possible deductions like Child Tax Credits or credits for the elderly or disabled.
Tax counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a program offering free tax advice to those over 60. TCE volunteers specialize in issues involving pensions and retirement issues. TCE volunteers are all IRS certified and are frequently retirees themselves from nonprofit organizations working with assistance of IRS grant programs.
Still think you can negotiate the process on your own? Visit IRS.gov. This is the only federally supported website for tax issues. And beware, there are a lot of official looking websites that, once you log in, will suck down your personal information into a deep hole and create all sorts of credit problems.
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The easy to navigate IRS site contains downloadable forms, explains procedures and offers answers to tax questions. You can find out how the IRS is working to prevent identity theft and how you can protect your personal information. There are also warnings on tax scams and how the change in recent laws affect your return, for example how same-sex marriages are recognized in the tax code. Best of all, there’s a link to check on the status of your refund.
Let’s say you filed a return but the IRS disagrees with deductions taken or how much reportable income you claimed. If you’ve reached an impasse working through regular IRS channels, try contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).
The TAS is an independent organization within the IRS. The TAS provides free tax help to taxpayers who haven’t been able to resolve disputes on their own. They also address large-scale, systemic issues that affect groups of taxpayers.
Congress didn’t create the TAS to help all taxpayers all the time and it isn’t meant to be a substitute for regular IRS procedures; you still have to follow those. The purpose of the TAS is to serve taxpayers who need special attention. Each year TAS takes on about 250,000 cases, more than half of which involve taxpayers who suffer financial hardships as a result of tax issues.
For help with state taxes, look at your individual state’s Comptroller office or Taxation Bureau website. Most publish FAQs, hotlines and offer locations where volunteer help is available.
If you have questions or need help filing the return, don’t delay. At best, you’ll delay your refund. At worst, you’ll face a fine for delaying or failing to file a tax return by the April 15 deadline.