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How to get your taxes done for free

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jan 14, 2018

The cost of tax preparation can definitely put a dent in your wallet, but there are lots of ways to cut that bill down to $0 (or darn close) if you know where to look. Here are three tricks for getting your taxes done for free this year.

Scour tax software offerings

Some packages can cost well over $75, or even $100, but if you take the time to look around, you can find plenty of free, name-brand tax software options. Even big players such as TurboTax, TaxAct, TaxSlayer and H&R Block offer free versions. Visit the “compare products” areas of their websites to see what’s available.

Be sure to read the fine print, though. Sometimes free packages will let you prepare only a Form 1040 EZ or 1040A, for example, which means, if you want to itemize or had more than $100,000 of taxable income, you may need to upgrade to a paid version. Other packages might let you file your federal return for free but charge for a state return. The features and support also vary.

See if the IRS will get you a deal

This is pretty much an open secret in the tax world. If your adjusted gross income was less than $66,000 for the 2017 tax year, you probably qualify for the IRS Free File program, which scores you access to free tax software and electronic filing through the Free File Alliance. (Again, some may charge a fee for your state return.)

The Free File Alliance is a group of a dozen tax software companies that have agreed to let people under the income threshold use their software at no charge. Though some of the companies aren’t well-known, most of the big brand-name players are on the list. All you need to do is answer a few questions on the Free File website, and the IRS will match you with software.

» How complex is your situation? A tax calculator can help you figure that out

Look around town

If you’d rather work with a human preparer, see if there are free options in your community. Here are three popular programs.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

VITA is a federal grant program that helps local organizations provide free tax-prep services to low- and moderate-income individuals, the disabled, the elderly and limited-English speakers. You can get face-to-face help from local, IRS-certified volunteers. Generally, the income limit is $54,000.

Note that the volunteers won’t prepare Schedule C with losses (sorry, freelancers), complicated Schedule D (sorry, investors) or forms associated with nondeductible IRA contributions, investment income for minors, premium tax credits, requests for Social Security numbers or determinations of worker status.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)

Sort of like VITA, this is a federal grant program that gives money to community organizations to provide free tax help. Although the program was established to help people age 60 and older and still prioritizes them, there’s actually no minimum age requirement. Trained volunteers provide the assistance.

AARP Tax Foundation

This nonprofit arm of AARP operates the Tax-Aide network of tax-preparation sites for the IRS’ VITA and TCE programs. AARP’s Tax-Aide connects taxpayers with volunteers who have advanced IRS training. It also operates an online FAQ page where you can submit tax questions to IRS-certified volunteers. You don’t need to be an AARP member to get help.

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