Imagine this scenario: it’s less than a week before the tax-filing deadline, and you haven’t started yet. If you thrive on pressure, maybe this isn’t a big deal. More than likely, though, it’s cause for a bit of angst.
So, here’s some good news. As long as your tax situation isn’t too complicated and you meet certain qualifications, you can file for free, and even get some help preparing your return.
Free File: This option is available if your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less. The IRS says that covers around 70% of all taxpayers. You can choose from a list of companies that offer Free File software, or you can get help picking a company. Before going with this option, check out the list of tax forms supported by Free File, to make sure you’ll be able to file your complete return.
Free File Fillable Forms: These are online versions of IRS paper tax forms, and they’re available to all taxpayers regardless of income. But forms are all you get – there’s no accompanying software to guide you through the process of preparing your return. If you’re comfortable doing that, you can use Fillable Forms to e-file your return for free, which should result in faster processing and a quicker refund, if you’re getting one.
File on your phone: If you’ve got a smartphone and a simple return, you can file taxes on your phone. Both TurboTax and H&R Block offer apps that will let you file a 1040EZ return. The apps are free to download, but you have to pay to file.
How to get help: Anyone preparing their own return can get help from the IRS at a local taxpayer assistance center or by calling 1-800-829-1040, though it's worth noting the IRS says staffing cuts are causing long wait times on the phone help line.
If you need help with your return but can’t afford a professional tax preparer, you may be eligible for the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It’s generally available to people who make $51,000 or less a year, and provides tax preparation and e-file services from IRS-certified volunteers.
Another IRS program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free help to people age 60 or older. Volunteers in this program offer specialized tax advice about pensions and retirement issues.