A variety of nonprofits, universities, and even local Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offices provide tax preparation assistance and tax problem resolution services to the public for free. It's just a matter of knowing where to look, what programs you qualify for, and identifying your particular needs.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA)
VITA is manned by a community of IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax preparation services for people who earn $54,000 or less as of 2020. Taxpayers with disabilities, those who have limited English language skills, and the elderly are also eligible.
VITA is funded partly by grants from the IRS, and it has community locations in shopping malls, schools, and libraries. Most are available from February through April, but some remain open until the filing extension deadline in October.
VITA will help you prepare your tax return, and most locations will e-file your tax return for you as well. You can find a local VITA site by searching on the IRS tool provided online, or call toll-free at 800-906-9887.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly
Tax Counseling for the Elderly is also funded in part by grants from the IRS, which partners with local non-profit organizations to provide training to volunteers so they can help senior citizens prepare their returns. You must be age 60 or older to qualify, and the program offers both tax preparation and counseling services. You can find a Tax Counseling for the Elderly location by calling toll-free at 888-227-7669.
AARP provides free tax preparation for people with low to moderate incomes. These services are operated very similarly to the VITA and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. You can find a local Tax-Aide site by calling toll-free 888-687-2277 or by visiting the AARP Tax-Aide website, where you can enter your zip code to search for nearby locations.
The Armed Forces Tax Council
The Armed Forces Tax Council is part of the IRS-funded VITA program. It provides free tax preparation assistance for military personnel. Volunteers are specially trained in the types of tax issues that are frequently encountered by people who work in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Military One Source additionally provides free access to H&R Block At Home if you want to prepare your own return. Visit its website to learn more, or speak to a tax adviser at no charge by calling the Military OneSource Tax Hotline at 800-730-3802.
You might want to call ahead to schedule an appointment before visiting any of these free tax preparation sites.
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics
The Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic Program (LITC) provides free or low-cost assistance to taxpayers who need help resolving tax problems, such as income tax audits and collection disputes over outstanding tax debts. They can provide legal representation to those who must go to tax court to resolve problems. The clinics also provide assistance to people whose primary language isn't English.
Nonprofits, universities, and law schools operate LITCs. They receive some funding from the IRS, and they're supervised by the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS). The IRS provides a directory of tax clinics. A search tool is provided on the bottom of the webpage.
The program is designed to help people and families with income that doesn't exceed 250% of federal poverty line, but each individual clinic will ultimately determine whether a taxpayer meets their criteria.
Taxpayer Assistance Centers
Taxpayer Assistance Centers can't help you prepare a tax return, but they'll provide free assistance in setting up payment plans, understanding letters from the IRS, and resolving tax problems. They'll review your documents before filing to make sure you have everything in order.
Unfortunately, these centers are located predominantly in larger cities. You might not find one conveniently nearby. You'll need an appointment, so call ahead.
Taxpayer Advocate Service
The Taxpayer Advocate Service can help you resolve tax problems if you've been unable to resolve them by dealing directly with the IRS. Maybe you received a notice from the IRS that you just don't understand, or you owe taxes that you simply can't pay. They'll be able to advise you of your rights if you have a more serious problem.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service reports directly to Congress. It's an organization independent from the IRS. Call them toll-free at 877-777-4778.
IRS Free File
Maybe you don't have a problem with your taxes and don't really need a professional to prepare your return for you, but you don't want to pay a lot of money for tax preparation software. IRS Free File has you covered if you earned $72,000 or less in 2020. The program is a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Program, a group of software providers who offer free tax return-preparation software to those who qualify.
You can still get free tax forms at the Free File website if you earned more than $72,000, but you'll have to fill them out yourself.
What to Take With You to Your Appointment
Be sure you bring your tax documents and other pertinent information with you, including:
- All of your W-2 and 1099 forms for the tax year
- A copy of last year's tax return
- Your Social Security card
- A driver's license or other form of photo ID
- Birth dates for yourself, your spouse, and any dependents, as well as their Social Security numbers
- Routing and account number information for your bank account if you want the IRS to directly deposit any refund you might be entitled to
- Health insurance statements for coverage you paid for if your insurer hasn't provided you with a Form 1095 that chronicles this information
Take the tax ID number for your childcare provider if you have children, and they attend day care or stay with a babysitter while you and your spouse work, as well as records of how much you paid. You might be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care tax credit.
The volunteers at most of these sites will ask you to fill out a two-page questionnaire, Form 13614-C, which you can download from the IRS website and complete ahead of time.