Finding free tax advice has grown more challenging during the pandemic, but it's still possible to find help preparing your taxes at no charge.
Here are 10 options for free tax help:
-- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
-- Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.
-- IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers.
-- Taxpayer Advocate Service.
-- AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program.
-- MilTax program.
-- Online tax-filing websites.
-- Your local library.
-- Community center.
-- Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
For more information on each free tax-filing resource, read on.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
The VITA program is organized by the Internal Revenue Service, although the people who staff it are volunteers who receive specialized training to provide basic income-tax preparation help.
VITA offers free help to people who generally make $54,000 or less as well as people with disabilities, the elderly and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
Unfortunately, VITA programs aren't as easy to find as they used to be. "Sadly, because of COVID, many sites are likely closed. My town's senior center and the library usually have VITA programs, but both are closed this year," says Beth Logan, an enrolled agent and owner of Kozlog Tax Advisers in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program
This is another IRS program. To be eligible for help, you need to be age 60 or older. Typically, you can find a TCE program (as well as a VITA program) offered through nonprofit organizations, local colleges or universities, community centers or libraries. You can find locations of TCEs and VITAs by visiting irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep.
What's more, if you're eligible to for a TCE, you can find help beyond taxes.
"In addition to offering help with tax prep, TCE also answers questions about pensions and other issues specific to retired people," says Charles Corsello, an enrolled agent and co-founder of TaxDebtHelp.com who is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers
Taxpayers can make a phone call and set up an appointment at a local IRS office to get help with tax questions that can't be resolved over the phone, or they can pinpoint a center location on the IRS website.
The IRS just asks that you wear a mask if you come in person -- and stay 6 feet away.
You'll need to bring all of your W-2s and 1099 forms, information that can be used for deductions and credits and proof of identification. At your appointment, you can get assistance preparing a variety of forms, including form 1099-G (for unemployment benefits) or form 1099-R (for IRA distributions). However, you may not be able to receive assistance if you have a complicated tax situation and you need help completing form 8606 (for a nondeductible IRA) or certain sections of form 8962 (for premium tax credits).
Taxpayer Advocate Service
If you're having a different kind of problem with your taxes -- that is, maybe you can't pay your taxes due to financial problems -- you may want to check out the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS. This is an independent organization within the IRS. If you have a problem with a tax levy or lien, you might want to go to the TAS. There are TAS offices in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program has been around for over 50 years and offers free tax-preparation help until April 15. Technically AARP offers free help to any taxpayer, but its focus is on helping people who are 50 or older and have low to moderate income.
Find an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide location by calling 1-888-227-7669 or visit its website.
If you're currently in the military, or you are a spouse or dependent child of someone who is in the military or has served in the military, you may be able to utilize the MilTax filing service, which offers around-the-clock help over the phone. The Military OneSource website can give you more information, and you can schedule appointments for the MilTax program at a VITA office.
Online Tax-Filing Websites
These days there are a lot of online tax-preparation websites that help by letting you file your taxes for free, such as Intuit's TurboTax, Credit Karma Tax, TaxAct, TaxSlayer Simply Free and DIY Tax. H&R Block also has a free online tax-filing program.
The IRS offers Free File if you make less than $66,000. If you earn more, you will be directed to use Free File Fillable Forms, a free tool that's available on any device that helps you enter your tax information and e-file your federal tax return.
Your Local Library
Another place to look for free tax help is at your library. "Many libraries offer resources to help taxpayers prepare their returns and answer questions," Corsello says.
Even if your library doesn't have those resources, somebody there can probably suggest a local organization that could help.
If nothing else, Logan says, "Local libraries usually have forms and instructions in paper form, which can help low-income people."
Do you have a community center in your area? Somebody there will likely be able to direct you to free help if the center doesn't offer it.
Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Low Income Tax Clinics, or LITCs, are something to keep in mind if you're still in need of free tax help after you file taxes.
"Low Income Tax Clinics are sprinkled throughout the U.S. for representation tax issues," Logan says. "Those are not tax-preparation issues, but issues that arise after filing, usually when the taxpayer gets a letter from the IRS. There is some federal funding for these. They are often run by universities with tax law programs, and the law students do much of the work."
Some LITCs also deal with state taxes, too, Logan says, pointing out that too often, an LITC will only work with a taxpayer on a federal level. In that case, she says, "The taxpayer is often stuck with state tax issues that they can't resolve."
So if you're looking for free tax help, you should be able to find an organization willing to give you a hand. But because COVID-19 is complicating everything and closing many free tax-prep sites, this isn't the time to find that assistance at the last minute.