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How to Do Your Taxes for Free

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Filing your taxes probably isn’t one of your favorite things to do, especially if you have to cough up some extra cash on April 15. But whether you owe Uncle Sam this year or not, there are ways to file your taxes for free in 2019. And, given that IRS found that approximately 70% of taxpayers are eligible to file their taxes for free, you should. Here are some possibilities to consider as you think about doing your taxes.

File for Free with Paper Forms from the IRS

Let’s go back to the basics—you can still file your taxes using pen and paper. And if you do, all you need to pay for is an envelope and postage. There are likely several places in your area you can pick up the forms—like your local library or post office—or you can print copies from the IRS website. If you opt to go to the library, you may want to call ahead to verify they have forms and information booklets available. While public libraries are likely the closest option, you may also want to consider university libraries or even your local high school library if these are easier to get to. You can also go to a local tax office.

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    File Taxes for Free on the IRS Website

    If you prefer to use a computer, you’ve plenty of options for filing your taxes for free online, which you can find at the IRS Free File page on its website. Anyone can use the online fillable forms, which are electronic versions of IRS paper documents.

    Which free filing options you can use, depends on your income. If your annual income in 2018 was below $66,000, you can use the Free File Software Lookup Tool to find free file software offers for paying your federal and state income taxes for free. The tool can also help you determine which free filing software is best for your needs.

    If you made more than $66,000 in 2018, you can use the Free File Fillable Forms.  If you need to go this route though, it’s recommended that you:

    • Know how to do your taxes yourself
    • Have a copy of your 2017 return
    • Valid Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse and dependents
    • Documents and receipts for 2018 available that show any other form of income and your Affordable Care Act enrollment if applicable
    • A personal email address, so you can receive notifications from the Free File Fillable forms tool

    The Free File Fillable forms can be used only for your federal tax return. The program does basic math for you. Your identity will be verified using your 2018 adjusted gross income (AGI). See the User’s Guide for more information.

    Free Tax Help from VITA and TCE

    The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and taxpayers with limited English who need help preparing their tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation and use e-filing to assist qualified individuals in their communities.

    Additionally, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program provides free tax assistance to any taxpayer, but it gives priority to those 60 and older. IRS-certified volunteers at TCE programs specialize in questions about pensions and retirement issues.

    These programs are helpful because taxes can be quite confusing, especially if you’ve never filled them out on your own before. You certainly don’t want to get them wrong or, worse, not pay them at all. Unpaid taxes can impact your finances. If eligible, take advantage of these services.

    You can find a VITA location near you using the VITA or TCE Locator Tool or by calling 1-800-906-9887. Use IRS Publication 3676-B on the website to prepare for working with VITA or TCE.

    Other Ways to Do Your Taxes for Free

    There are other filing options you can use to file for free. H&R Block Free File lets you file both federal and state tax returns for free, and help is offered through their online help center. You can also visit an authorized IRS e-file provider, and file your 1040EZ federal tax return for free. If your return is more complicated, you will have to pay a fee, however. Some authorized IRS-file providers also let you optionally file your state return for a fee.

    Other services, such as Jackson Hewitt and TaxAct, let taxpayers file simple federal returns for free online. At Jackson Hewitt, a simple return is typically defined as someone filing singly or married filing jointly, with up to $100,000 in taxable income, no dependent and taking the standard deduction, in other words, not itemizing deductions. Different providers have different offerings and allow for different items with free filing. H&R Block, for example, allows for child and dependent care expenses with its free filing option and includes state taxes. TaxAct also includes state taxes in their free filing.

    Choose the Right Tax Filing Method for You

    When it comes to choosing which free tax solution to use to file this year, first take a closer look at your specific income and situation to determine which program best suits your needs.

    For example, if you live in a state where you have to file state taxes in addition to your federal tax return, make sure the service you choose includes the option to file state taxes as well. Many do, some don’t. Some offer the ability for free, others include state filing only for a price. TaxAct and H&R Block include state tax returns in their free tax filing offers, for example.

    Look for an accuracy guarantee before choosing which service to use to file online for free. An accuracy guarantee—often presented as “100% accuracy guarantee”—ensures that if any mistakes or inaccuracies are found on your tax return, the resulting penalties are covered by the tax solution provider you chose.

    Prepare to File Your Taxes and Pick Your Approach

    Know that if you choose a free online tax preparation method, you’ll need to meet income requirements, depending on which one you choose, and likely take only the standard deduction. Before you make a final decision on how to prepare and file, think about what you’ve done throughout the year that you could possibly deduct, like medical expenses or charitable contributions. Decide whether itemizing is better for you. Itemizing will likely require you do your own taxes or ensure the service you choose supports itemized deductions.

    Once you decide which service and method to file your taxes this tax season, and you have the forms you need, you want to gather year-end documents from your employer, financial institutions, healthcare plans and any other records you may need to complete your taxes.

    If you choose the free online method, once you have your documents, log in to the tax prep software you’ve chosen to use or grab a pen and a calculator, and fill in the tax forms.

    If your return and situation are more complicated and you opt not to go it alone, the services of a tax professional can help add peace of mind. A tax preparer eliminates any guesswork and can go through your tax documents and find you the best ways to get a maximum tax refund this year through tax deductions and other option you qualify for.

    A tax professional can also show you the value of a tax refund advance loan and walk you through that process if you find that you need cash fast and don’t want to wait three or more weeks for your refund.

    This article was last published March 9, 2017, and has since been updated by another author.

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