Tax preparation fees can be expensive, and if you have a complicated income tax return, the fee may be well worth the savings you receive in tax dollars. After all, there are more than 75,000 pages of tax code, none of which are easy to navigate. Having a tax pro advise you and prepare your tax return can be a wise approach.
But let’s say that all you have is a W2 form or two, which means that barring any complications, you’ve got a very straightforward income tax return. With such a return, you may be able to file your taxes without paying any fees through Free File, free tax preparation service provided by the IRS.
Free File is the same as brand name tax-filing software, but unlike the commercial products, there are no pop-up ads or other marketing devices.
The Free File Alliance, a coalition of 14 industry-leading tax software companies that offers the software, has partnered with the IRS since 2003 to help low and middle-income Americans prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns online, according to its website. About 40 million returns have been filed through Free File since its inception.
“Free File is here to make tax time less taxing for 70% of Americans,” said Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance in a release. “If you made $58,000 or less in 2013, Free File is your portal to free tax software from more than a dozen of the country’s top companies.”
According to the alliance, Free File users get step-by-step instructions to help them fill out their tax returns and receive a confirmation e-mail when their claim has been submitted.
Free File also lists free tax software offered by Free File Alliance member companies. After selecting a company, users will be transferred to the company's website to prepare, complete and electronically file their federal income tax returns. The service is also available in Spanish.
Free File Fillable Forms, which allow taxpayers who are familiar with tax law and need no preparation assistance to complete and file their federal income tax electronically, are also available here.
Free File only works to file your federal taxes. If you live in a state that levies an income tax, you will have to go to your state’s tax commission website to determine if there’s a similar program available.
The IRS has partnered with 42 states to accept e-filed returns on behalf of the state and transmit the data to the state directly for the taxpayer.
If you do not feel comfortable with computers and/or doing the calculations yourself, there are other alternatives. The IRS sponsors the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. They work with local community groups to both train and certify volunteers who carry out the programs goals of providing free tax preparation services.
If you make $52,000 or less, you qualify to take advantage of the VITA program services for no charge. If you are a member of the military, you and your family can take advantage of the services provided by VITA with no income limitations.
If you are age 60 or older, you qualify for the TCE program. AARP is part of the TCE program and helps taxpayers with low to moderate incomes.
Both programs provide electronic filing. For more information on VITA or TCE call the IRS at 1-800-906-9887 or AARP at 888-227-7669. Or click on: Free Tax Return Preparation for You by Volunteers.
Bonnie Lee is an enrolled agent admitted to practice and representing taxpayers in all 50 states at all levels within the Internal Revenue Service. She is the owner of Taxpertise in Sonoma, Calif., and the author of Entrepreneur Press book, “Taxpertise, The Complete Book of Dirty Little Secrets and Hidden Deductions for Small Business that the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know.” Her new e-book Taxpertise for the Creative Mind Murder, Mayem, Romance, Comedy and Tax Tips for Artists of all Kinds is available at all major booksellers. Follow Bonnie Lee on Twitter and on Facebook.