Free tax help
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Free is good. Free tax help is better.
There are lots of good no-cost tax resources via the Internet. To paraphrase the flight attendant spiel as the plane wheels to the gate, I know you have beau-coup options when surfing for tax info.
And while I sincerely appreciate all y'all who drop by for the daily posts and tax tips, I'm a firm believer that you can never have too much tax information.
So today's Daily Tax Tip is a look at some other ways and places to get some low- or no-cost help when you're working on your taxes (or after they're filed).
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
The VITA program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income taxpayers. The income threshold this filing season is $50,000.
IRS-certified volunteers help eligible taxpayers prepare basic tax returns at sites across the country. You'll generally find a VITA site at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other public locations.
Most VITA sites also offer free electronic filing. In fact, this year the IRS Free File program has expanded its partnership with VITA, setting up self-serve free e-filing kiosks at around 500 of the sites. If you have trouble using the kiosk, a VITA volunteer will be there to help.
You can find a nearby VITA site via the program's online directory of by calling 1-800-906-9887.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
Trained volunteers from nonprofit organizations provide the TCE's free tax counseling and basic income tax return preparation for taxpayers age 60 and older.
As part of this IRS-sponsored program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season.
For more information on TCE, call 1-800-906-9887 (yes, that's the same number as VITA).
To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, use the online search tool or call 1-888-227-7669.
|Items you need to bring to a VITA or TCE site:|
|Married joint filers note that in order to electronically file your return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.|
Military personnel tax assistance
The Department of Defense's Military OnceSource program has partnered with H&R Block to offer members of the armed forces a way to complete and e-file their 2011 federal return and up to three state returns online for free.
The military also offers servicemen and women VITA help at various installations. Tax volunteers are trained to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) guidelines.
The uniformed VITA program is overseen by the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC), which consists of tax program coordinators for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC)
Many communities offer Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs).
LITC volunteers do not help with routine tax filing. Instead, they offer assistance to low-income taxpayers who are having problems with the IRS, such as audits, appeals issues and collection disputes.
These clinics are not part of the IRS. They are run by nonprofits or law, business or accounting schools. However, LITCs receive partial funding from the IRS via a special grant program.
The LITC tax locator map can help you find a clinic in your area.
I know, I know. The IRS' taxpayer telephone assistance system often is a case of adding insult to injury.
Over the years, the tax agency's phone reps have been deservedly criticized for their attitudes and erroneous answers.
But if your tax inquiry is relatively simple or you have some questions about your specific filing situation, calling 1-800-829-1040 could be useful.
Just be prepared to wait. Even though people complain, they still call the IRS in big numbers.
You might be better off going online, especially during filing season.
The IRS' website, IRS.gov, is really good, and the agency has improved its search engine to help make things a bit easier. It's even got a Tax Map feature that has 5,000+/- Internal Revenue Code related topics you can explore.
And don't forget the agency's recently upgraded IRS2Go smartphone app.
IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs)
If you don't trust that faceless IRS hotline voice, get the agency's help in person at one of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs).
The IRS has more than 400 TACs nationwide where taxpayers can walk in and get face-to-face assistance.
Note, however, that just like low-income clinics, TACs don't provide return filing assistance. Rather, these offices are where you go for personal tax help when you believe your tax issue cannot be handled online or by phone.
Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS)
When a tax problem causes serious financial difficulty and you haven't been able to resolve the issue through normal IRS channels, you might be eligible for help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).
The Taxpayer Advocate Toolkit offers information for individuals and businesses that need help in resolving a tax problem. You also can call the national office at 1-877-777-4778 or find your nearest taxpayer advocate office using TAS' online locator map.
Most of the major tax software firms offer online forums, blogs, Facebook pages, smartphone apps and in some cases access to tax experts.
If you've purchase one of the software programs, you'll get even more access to tax experts as you work on your return.
Don't forget state taxes
Most states collect income tax, and most states do so along the IRS timetable.
If you're having difficulty with your state return, begin your help search at your state's department of revenue. They all have official state tax websites that, like the IRS online presence, have become more informative and user-friendly.
When you should pay: Of course, you need to remember that adage, "You get what you pay for."
This is not to say that free tax help is bad tax help.
But if your tax circumstances are more elaborate, the price you pay to a tax professional who is trained in the nuances of your tax needs could be the best money you ever spend.
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