For many people filing taxes involves an expensive trip to an accountant, a visit to a company specializing in the area, or the use of software which comes with its own costs.
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There are however a number of ways to do your taxes for free. The choices vary based on income, but every American can file his or her taxes without paying a single dime for it.
Of course, just because you can do something does not mean you should. If you have a complicated tax form -- perhaps you are self-employed, own a business, or make money from multiple places aside from a job -- it may be worth it to hire a professional. For those types of filers, many free options no longer apply, but even if they did, the risk of making a mistake may not be worth it.
For many Americans, however, especially those working jobs where they get issued W-2 forms at the end of the year after having taxes taken out with each paycheck, free is a viable option. Below are three ways to do your taxes for free.
There is free help available for many U.S. taxpayers. Image source: Getty Images.
1. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program
A program for people making less than $54,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI), people with disabilities, and taxpayers who speak limited English, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program could be the answer. Run by local non-profits, the program uses Internal Revenue Service-certified volunteers to offer basic income tax preparation to people who qualify along with free electronic filing. In addition to VITA (often along with it) there is also the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program that aids people 60 years or older in filing their taxes, giving special consideration to retirement-related concerns.
VITA and TCE programs tend to be located in public places like libraries, senior centers, or schools. To find the one nearest you call 800-906-9887 or use the locator tool on the IRS website. Before going to a VITA or TCE site, it's also important to check out this list of things to bring with you.
2. The government has a free filing site
If you're just above the VITA limit, another option is using the IRS' own free filing software. This program works for anyone making under $64,000 AGI, and it's essentially a web tool that connects you to third-party software. The actual IRS partner that you get connected to varies based on factors like the type of return you are filing, whether you have served in the military, or whether you also need to file a state return.
Most online tax-filing software walks you through the steps, but it's still best to know roughly how the system works in order to maximize your refund (or minimize what you owe). You will also want to have all the relevant documents from the list above when you sit down to file.
3. You can do them yourself
While commercials suggest you need someone else (or at least some software) to do your taxes, there's actually no reason you can't file them on your own. You can either do it the old fashioned way and actually manually fill out a paper return or you can use the IRS system, which takes you through the standard tax forms, but does not offer any help.
For people with simple returns -- one W-2, no kids, and no outside income, doing taxes the old-fashioned (or old-fashioned, but digital) way is not as hard as you might think. To make this choice however, you should either know the system well, or have a very basic income structure. For more complicated filers, especially people looking to itemize deductions, it's probably worth paying for help or software that walks you through the process. In many cases, that can lead to added deductions where you may save more than the cost of the tax-filing service.
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