By Nicole Long
Nicole Long is a freelance writer with expertise in economics, business and personal finance. Nicole blogs via Contently.com.
It’s that time of year again — tax season. Time to dust off the calculator and sit down at your desk for hours of nail-biting fun as you tabulate your earnings and keep your fingers crossed for a refund.
With an ever-changing tax code and forms and instructions that leave even the linguistically-gifted looking for an explanation, filing taxes can be an overwhelming experience. If you’d rather make a trip to the dentist than do your taxes, maybe it’s time to take advantage of some of the programs available to help you prepare and file your tax return.
Tax Prep Help
Depending on your circumstances, taxes can be rather straightforward or a logistical nightmare. For instance, if you experienced a life-changing event during the tax year or are self-employed or have investment income the tax game is more complex than it is for a single individual with a traditional 9-5 job. Fortunately, help is out there for those fumbling with tax code intricacies and nuances.
1. Basic Resources. For clarification on simple topics or help with basic filing situations, the IRS provides several sources of free help. You can get help from the IRS by visiting IRS.gov, calling 1-800-829-1040 to speak with customer service, or dialing 1-800-829-4477 to access TeleTax — a system that provides prerecorded messages addressing common tax topics and questions.
2. Taxpayer Assistance Centers. If you’re looking for face-to-face help, consider visiting an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is the best option if you have complex tax issues to resolve or need help with arranging a payment plan for taxes due. You can locate a Taxpayer Assistance Center in your area by visiting the IRS website.
3. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. Low income taxpayers can get help from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. The program prepares and files basic returns. You can call 1-800-829-1040 to access a directory of programs in your area.
4. Community Options. Beyond IRS resources, you can check with your local church and community services agencies for additional help. Local churches and community centers often host tax clinics and provide contact information for professionals willing to volunteer their time helping others prepare and file their taxes.
Now that the hard part is over, it’s time to investigate your options for filing your taxes. These include both low-cost and free services.
1. IRS Free File. IRS Free File is a free electronic filing service offered by the IRS. Those with an adjusted gross income of less than $57,000 qualify to use a free tax preparation and filing software, offered by chosen tax preparation services in partnership with the IRS.
If you don’t qualify for the free tax preparation software option, you can still take advantage of the IRS Free File program. You would simply use the Free File Fillable Forms provided by the IRS. With this program, you enter all information as you would if you were filling out the traditional paper forms. The program only does basic math, but it is a good alternative if you have a solid handle on your taxes or if you were able to get your questions answered through the services mentioned earlier.
2. Other Options. Contacting a local tax preparation service is another option, especially if you want the added security of knowing your taxes were done correctly. Some tax preparers offer low-cost services for preparing and filing basic taxes.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Take a step back and decide what type of help you need and reach out. Maximizing your refund, or limiting the tax due, may just depend on it.