Have your taxes prepared for free

Employers have until the end of January to send out W-2 forms and the IRS will begin accepting online tax returns beginning Jan. 31. As daunting as tax season might be for you, electronic filing is free and there a number of options for you to get your taxes prepared for no charge as well.

If you are comfortable working with online tools, several programs too numerous to name (and for fear of appearing to favor some over others) allow you to file your federal income taxes for no charge.

Free state tax preparation is a bit more challenging to find, but several market programs provide it if your income is low enough, $20,000 or sometimes even higher. It also might be worthwhile to check with your state’s revenue department online to see if there are options they offer.

The IRS itself has a couple of options for free tax preparation. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is free for those making less than $52,000 annually. They will know about tax credits for people raising children, for the elderly and the disabled.  The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) aids everyone, but gives priority to those 60 and older, specializing in retirement questions. The agency’s website can show you where to find volunteers.

In many communities the United Way will partner with the IRS programs and in some major cities has a mobile van to provide free tax prep help. The organization also offers a free program online, MyFreeTaxes.com, for those earning less than $57,000 a year. 

The MyFreeTaxes program is also available in person through a partnership that includes the United Way, the Walmart Foundation, Goodwill Industries International and the National Disability Institute.

Other sources worth checking are local colleges, who often serve as a home for VITA and other programs, churches, community centers, organizations that deal specifically with those speaking foreign languages, and senior centers.

Some of the basic things you will need before you begin preparing your taxes are any statements that reflect what you earned for the year you’re filing, interest and dividend statements from financial institutions, the total paid to child care providers and their tax identification numbers, and your bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit of your return.

If you’re having someone prepare your taxes for you, you must also have picture identification, Social Security cards and birth dates for anyone listed on your form, and tax ID numbers if you have business.

If this all still seems intimidating, start with a simple search online using terms like “free tax preparation.” Add your community name to the search and you are more likely to find someone willing to help close to you.