April 15th is still a few months away but it’s not too early to think about getting your taxes done. If you’ve got a fairly simple return, you might be comfortable doing it yourself but when your filing is a little more complicated, it’s probably time to call in professional help. Hiring an accountant or another tax specialist can cost a pretty penny and if you don’t have a few hundred dollars extra to spare, it’ll leave your wallet feeling the pinch. Fortunately, there are a few options for getting your 2014 return prepared and filed for free.
1) Get help from an IRS assistance program
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by the IRS provides free tax help to qualifying individuals. All volunteers are specially certified to perform basic income tax prep and electronic filing and there’s no cost to take advantage of these services. To be eligible, you must have earned $53,000 or less in 2014, be disabled or elderly or have limited English-speaking skills.
The IRS offers a free online tool to help taxpayers find the nearest VITA service center in their area. If you’re planning to go, you’ll need to bring a photo ID, Social Security cards for everyone who’s included on your return, any income tax forms you’ve received such as a W-2 or 1099, your prior year’s tax returns, your bank account number if you’re planning to request direct deposit of your refund and any supporting documents to prove eligibility for deductions or credits.
If you’re over 60, you can get additional help with your return through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program, which also operates on a volunteer basis. Volunteers are trained to provide tax help and specialize in issues that concern older taxpayers, such as pensions, annuities and distributions from other qualified retirement accounts. Again, you’ll need to make sure you have all of your paperwork in order before you visit a TCE center to ensure your filing goes as smoothly as possible.
2) Take advantage of free filing software
Buying tax software is usually less expensive than hiring a tax pro but you could still end up spending $50 or $100 before it’s all said and done. A cheaper alternative is to look into the free file service offered by the IRS. As long as you make less than $60,000, you can choose from one of several brand name tax prep software options, plug in your information and file your return electronically without spending a dime.
According to the IRS, 70 percent of all taxpayers should be eligible to use the free file program but if you made more than $60,000 in 2014, you can still save money on your filing. When you visit the Free File website, you’ll find links to electronic tax forms that you can complete online. You can still e-file but you won’t be able to do your state returns through the program. If you’re strapped for cash and you don’t want to go the old-fashioned paper return route, this is a great, no-cost alternative when your return isn’t very complex.
3) Try out the AARP
The American Association of Retired Persons provides a wide range of services to seniors, including free tax prep help. The AARP Foundation Tax Aide program is a volunteer-run operation that offers basic tax filing services to all low to moderate income taxpayers, with special attention given to those who are 60 or older. Tax Aide help locations are open from January to April but if you have a tax question at any other time of the year, you can use the AARP’s online form to get the answers you need.
4) Look for help locally
Free tax preparation services can usually be found right in your own backyard, if you’re willing to take the time to look for them. For instance, many states offer help with state returns through their revenue offices. There are also non-profit organizations and community groups that provide free assistance to certain taxpayers who are at the lower end of the income range. If you’re dealing with an issue related to a previous tax return, you can also get help through one of the IRS Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. You can also check with legal aid organizations in your area to see if pro bono representation is available.