Like clockwork, Tax Day comes every year. In 2017, it falls on Tuesday, April 18 (Wednesday, April 19 for residents of Maine and Massachusetts). If just the mention of taxes makes you nervous, or even stressed, you’re not alone. Since 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been tracking the top causes of stress for Americans and has found that money, including tax preparation, is consistently at the very top of the APA’s list.
While it may feel tempting to relieve this stress by paying somebody else to file your return, or buying expensive tax prep software, there is a long list of options to have your taxes prepared for free. Let’s review what organizations offer free tax preparation services and what you can do to make the whole task… less taxing.
1. Free File Software From the IRS
Individuals who earned less than $64,000 in 2016 — 70% of Americans, according to the IRS — can file their federal taxes for free with Free File Software from the IRS, a partnership of the IRS with eight software providers, including TaxSlayer, H&R Block, and ezTaxReturn.com.
In addition to free federal tax filing, most Free File Software partners offer free state tax filing for residents of states with income tax requirements. Some providers may charge a fee for filing state tax returns.
2. IRS Tax Volunteers
Looking to help the community by preparing taxes free of charge, many Americans receive training by the IRS and then volunteer at approved locations in their communities. IRS-certified tax volunteers participate in two main programs.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
Individuals who make $54,000 or less, have disabilities, or have limited English proficiency have access to free basic income tax return preparation with IRS-certified volunteers through VITA. Qualifying taxpayers have their returns filed electronically.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
IRS-certified volunteers for the TCE program focus on taxpayers who are 60 years of age and older, and specialize in questions about pensions and retirement unique to seniors.
Located at neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations throughout the country, VITA and TCE sites can be found online through the VITA/TCE Locator Tool or by calling 1-800-906-9887. Since many TCE sites are operated by the AARP’s Foundation Tax Aide program between January and April, you can also use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 1-888-227-7669.
3. Free Tax Services at Universities and Colleges
Around the country, many student-run service organizations offer free tax assistance for low- to moderate-income individuals. Generally, these organizations offer free e-file for federal and state tax returns under the supervision of the IRS and CPA certified accounting faculty. Here are some examples:
The majority of student-run organizations offering free tax assistance are also IRS-certified VITA sites. Keep in mind that free tax preparation programs at universities and colleges can only provide tax preparation to individuals making $54,000 or less. Student volunteers will most likely turn away small business owners and self-employed individuals because volunteers are limited to returns with certain types of income, including Wages and Salaries (Form W-2), Interest Income (Form 1099-INT), Dividends Received (Form 1099-DIV), Unemployment Compensation (Form 1099-G), IRA Distributions (Form 1099-R), Pension Income (Form 1099-R, Form RRB-1099), and Social Security Benefits (Form SSA-1099).
Student-run tax prep organizations can generally help nonresidents on a student visa (F, J, M, or Q), or a teacher or trainee…