Many people would like help with their tax returns, but don’t know how they can afford to employ the services of a tax professional.
It’s true that some of the major income tax preparation services advertise that they will file your taxes for free, but this isn’t always the same as preparing them; in many cases you can only have the 1040-EZ prepared for free.
If your taxes are a little more complicated than a 1040-EZ, yet you don’t feel like you can afford to have an accountant or other tax professional help you prepare your Form 1040, you do have a place to turn.
The IRS sponsors a program designed to help those who make less than $50,000 a year prepare and file their taxes.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program
The IRS sponsors the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program as a a way to help those who make less than $50,000 a year get help with their taxes.
The VITA program has been around since 1971 and is staffed by trained volunteers in different localities. Volunteers go through specific IRS training to prepare them to help in tax preparation of simple returns.
Indeed, in many programs, the volunteers pass the IRS Basic exam, and receive some training from major accounting firms.
Different VITA centers offer different services.
Some of them can’t help you itemize deductions or file previous year tax returns or amended tax returns.
However, there are some VITA volunteers who can help with itemized returns or with other tax filing actions. Usually, VITA volunteers also receive training that allows them to help filers in their specific states. You can usually get help with a state tax return, as well as a federal return, when you take advantage of VITA.
Some of the locations that you can likely find VITA services include:
- Shopping centers
- Community centers
The IRS offers a locator, which can help you find VITA locations near you.
It is also worth noting that the IRS also sponsors a program aimed at seniors aged 60 and older. The TCE Program is designed to address specific tax questions that retirees often have.
Specific training regarding retirement accounts and pensions is provided to volunteers who can help seniors with those issues that they encounter while completing their tax forms.
What Do You Need to Bring To VITA?
If you want help from VITA volunteers, it’s important that you bring the necessary information so that the volunteers can help you. Some of the items that you need in order to successfully fill out your tax return include:
- Picture ID, showing proof of identification of who you are.
- The birth dates of you, your spouse and your dependents (including your children, or others that derive more than half of their support from you).
- Social Security numbers for you and your dependents, as well as your spouse. You can bring the actual Social Security cards, or you can bring letters of verification from the Social Security Administration. If you don’t have a Social Security number, you will need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or the proper proof of foreign status.
- Birth dates for yourself, your spouse and your dependents.
- All of your income statements, for you and your spouse. This includes your W-2 forms, and all 1099 forms that you have received. Your interest and dividend statements (also 1099 forms) should be brought.
- Total amount paid for child care or elder care. You will need the tax ID numbers for those providing the care services. You might be eligible for a dependent care credit.
- Copy of last year’s tax return, if you have it. This can provide VITA volunteers a good place to start with your return.
- If you want your money deposited directly into your bank account, you will need to bring your bank information. A blank or voided check can be used to provide your bank routing number, as well as your account number.
- Understand, too, that if you are married filing jointly, you can file electronically only if you and your spouse are both present to sign the forms that allow for it.
Other Ways to Get Free Assistance
The VITA program is not the only way to find free assistance with your taxes, however. Anyone can look on IRS.gov and find information and help with their taxes. Additionally, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for answers to questions about your taxes.
For simple tax returns, some professional tax preparers will help you for free.
Another option is to check with local universities. Many accounting programs have their students offer tax preparation help for free in order to provide practice while helping those who need it.
Before you pay for tax preparation, especially if you don’t think you can afford it, check to see if there is a volunteer program center near you.