- Days left

Do You Qualify for Free Tax Help?

Here's how low- and moderate-income taxpayers can get free tax-preparation assistance.

Do You Qualify for Free Tax Help?
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
By Geoff Williams

If you don't make much money, you might assume doing your taxes will be simple. After all, there isn't much information you need to give the Internal Revenue Service, given your meager paycheck.

But, of course, some people who find it tough to make ends meet don't have just one job -- they have two or three, and perhaps they earn extra money working at home, which can complicate a tax form. Additional challenges: Some taxpayers are part of a blended family, or part of a family unit that isn't quite family. So while you may not earn much, it doesn't necessarily mean your taxes will be simple.

Fortunately, many low- to moderate-income individuals can get free professional help to do their taxes.

"There's a wide swath of low- to moderate-income taxpayers who can get their taxes done for free -- approximately 100 million taxpayers who are eligible," says Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance, a coalition of companies that work with the IRS to provide free tax preparation and filing.

So if you can't afford to hire someone to do your taxes or buy software, you may not have to go it alone. Here are the questions you likely have -- and the answers.

Who qualifies? Generally, if your adjusted gross income is $52,000 or less, you probably qualify for help. Adjusted gross income, for those who need a refresher, is your gross income after exemptions and deductions. Your gross income is all your income -- not just your salary, but alimony, proceeds from a car you sold and so on. So if your income is close to $52,000, you might not actually know if you qualify until you do your taxes and see what number you land on.

To take advantage of free tax software -- more on that in a moment -- your adjusted gross income will generally need to be $58,000 or less.

Where do I go? You will probably want to find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, known as VITA, or a Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, known as TCE.
Both are partly funded by the IRS and located just about everywhere -- in universities, elementary schools, recreation centers, churches, employment centers, libraries and even shopping malls. The volunteers who staff VITAs are often retired professionals who want to give back to the community, or college students who use the volunteer time to get college credit.

You can find a VITA at the IRS website or by calling 800-906-9887.

Most TCE sites are run by the AARP Foundation's Tax Aide Program. If you go to the IRS website to search for a TCE, it will direct you to an AARP website.

You or an older relative could also call 888-227-7669 to get help at a TCE. To qualify for help, you have to be at least 60 -- hardly an age anyone considers "elderly," but it's free help, so best not to worry about the semantics.

Can I get help online? Instead of finding a VITA or TCE, you could do your taxes on your computer. There are a couple of good options if you want to go that route. For instance, myfreetaxes.com is a free service funded by Walmart Foundation, Goodwill Industries International, National Disability Institute and United Way Worldwide. The website offers free tax preparation software that can be used for federal taxes and state taxes in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia.

You can also go to irs.gov, then look for the "free file" logo. Click on "start free file now," and you'll be directed to a page with 14 commercial tax software companies that will allow you to file with them for free, provided you aren't over that $58,000 threshold.

Some of the 14 brands you'll likely recognize include H&R Block (HRB) and TurboTax. Keep in mind that there are different eligibility requirements, and some companies may charge for filing state taxes.

What's in it for them? The cynic in you may wonder if there's a catch to using these services. Hugo insists there isn't. "Free File has evolved over the last few years. Five or 10 years ago, the companies would try to sell you tax services. One of the companies, a few years ago, if you filed your taxes with them, would try to sell you flowers. There's none of that now," Hugo says.

The only thing in it for the companies now is goodwill, Hugo says, and the hope that if your income climbs at some point, perhaps you'll fondly remember the tax preparation company that helped you out and will use its services as a paying customer.

Laura Scherler, director of financial stability at United Way Worldwide, echoes the same sentiment about myfreetaxes.com, for those who decide to use that service, and says the site is free for eligible filers. "There are no hidden fees or other charges," she says.

Of the VITA and TCE programs out there, she adds: "The community-based tax preparation services offered by nonprofit organizations are also always free. The volunteer tax preparers that participate in these programs are certified by the IRS, and every return is subject to a quality review to ensure its accuracy."

More from U.S. News

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Understanding Credit Scores

Credit scores matter -- learn how to improve your score.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

Tax Deductions for Voluntary Interest Payments on Student Loans

Most taxpayers who pay interest on student loans can take a tax deduction for the expense ? and you can do this regardless of whether you itemize tax deductions on your return. The rules for claiming the deduction are the same whether the interest payments were required or voluntary.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

The definition of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) above is not very good. Income is what is sounds like, wages (W2), Interest (1099-INT), dividends (1099-DIV), alimony, business income, capital gains, IRA / retirement (1099-R), rentals, unemployment, social security and other income. Add the above to get total income. Adjustments (subtractions from total income) are: educator expense, certain business expenses, health saving account, moving expenses, retirement contributions, health insurance, alimony paid, student loan and tuition and fees. Most of the adjustments usually appear on a W2 (health & retirement) as pre-tax payments or have a better treatment as credits (tuition and fees). Adjustments subtract from total income to arrive at AGI. Most taxpayers do not have adjustments.
The standard or itemized deduction and personal exemptions are subtracted from AGI to get taxable income. These were incorrectly listed above as being used to compute AGI.

February 10 2014 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply