Q. I hear that the IRS may offer free tax preparation services. Do you know anything about this?
A. Yes. The IRS offers free tax preparation software, fillable forms, and free taxpayer assistance, all available in an effort to make tax compliance easier, especially for seniors, those with a disability and those whose primary language is not English.
The free tax software is actually available from private vendors, but studies find that the availability of the free software is not well known and, in fact, is not easy to find on an Internet Search. It seems that, some years back, in an effort to increase the number of electronically filed returns, the IRS decided to encourage the use of tax preparation software. In aid of that goal, the IRS entered into an agreement with private software vendors whereby the latter agreed to make their software available for free to low-income persons, especially seniors, and in exchange the IRS agreed not to design its own free software to compete with those private companies.
Unfortunately, it seems that some of these companies have initiated computer code so that their free software is not easily “findable” on an internet search. As a result, the number of taxpayers actually using the free software is tiny.
That said, seniors, retirees and persons with a disability should know that they can take advantage of free help to file their tax returns. There are basically two (2) categories of free assistance, depending upon income, age, disability and facility with English, as noted below. In each case, seniors can go to the IRS website [IRS.gov] and type in the following words in the search bar: “Free File: Do Your Federal Taxes for Free”. A screen will then pop up to give you choices, as follows:
Option 1: Guided Tax Preparation Software: This option is for seniors whose Adjusted Gross Income (“AGI”) is less than $79,000. Seniors who qualify can peruse the IRS site, choose their favorite vendor, and download free federal and state tax preparation software from vendors with such familiar names as Turbo Tax and H&R Block.
Option 2: Free Fillable Forms: Available for any income level, Seniors can opt for Free Fillable Forms, but must have a basic understanding as to how to do their own taxes.
The IRS.gov site also shows how to seek help, pursuant to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (“VITA”) program, which offers free tax help to people who earn $64,000 or less, persons with disabilities and taxpayers with limited English speaking skills. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic tax return preparation with electronic filing for qualified individuals.
Another program of note is the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (“TCE”) program: The TCE offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, and specialize in dealing with pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. The IRS-certified volunteers are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations.
You can find a location near you to obtain free assistance in any one of the following ways:
a) Call the VITA locator phone number at 1-800-906-9887; b) Call the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aid Program at 1-888-227-7669; or, c) Go to the IRS.gov web page, type the following into the search bar: “Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers”. Then Click on one of the two Locator Tools.
b)Alternatively, you can just call one of these nearby locations for on site assistance: Hayward Area Seniors Center, Hayward: (510-881-6766); Eden Social Services Agency, Hayward: (510)271-9141; Alameda County Social Services: (510)670-6000; or, Hayward Library (510)293-8685.
Of note, also, is that the IRS now offers a simplified two page form designed especially for seniors. It is called the Form 1040-SR “US Tax Return For Seniors” and is designed to simplify the process for retirees. Good wishes on filing your taxes!