According to the Tax Policy Center, “the current tax system is too complicated, yet almost every year [it] gets more complex, not less”i. Fortunately for taxpayers there are resources available to help reduce some of that complexity. Don’t be surprised that the biggest resource is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) itself. Here’s how they might make this tax season go more smoothly for those looking for help.
Help Filing Your Return
The IRS has two programs that help taxpayers file their returns for free. Both are online and eligibility for each is based on your income. They are:
- IRS Free File
- Free File Fillable Forms
Free File is available to taxpayers whose income is $72,000 or less. The program is a partnership with a number of well-known tax-preparation and tax-filing software companies.
The program directs you to a partner website. You answer questions about your income and expenses online. The software uses those answers to populate appropriate tax forms and files your return directly with the IRS.
Free File Fillable Forms is available if your income is more than $72,000. This program just makes tax forms available to you online. There is no help or advice. You’ll be expected to know how to prepare a tax return when you use the service. But it does allow you to file your return electronically directly with the IRS.
Hands-on Help if you Have Special Needs
The IRS offers three additional services delivered through partner organizations. These are:
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
- Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
- Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC)
VITA works with sponsoring organizations that train and qualify volunteers to help people prepare their tax returns. To qualify, one of the following criteria must apply:
1) Have income of $57,000 or less
2) Be disabled
3) English is your second language (ESL)
An important aspect of VITA is that volunteers are typically available on many large military bases around the world. So, service members and their families can easily get free income tax filing help.
TCE volunteers provide basic tax preparation services for those aged 60 years and older.
The LITC Program doesn’t offer tax preparation help. It provides funding to organizations that represent taxpayers in audits, appeals, debt collection, and federal tax litigation. It’s intended for people who can’t afford to pay an accountant or attorney in such matters.
Other In-Person Assistance
Most IRS offices maintain an in-person Taxpayer Advocacy Service to help answer questions about everything from which forms to file and how to pay taxes to how to fix errors and collect refunds. They are intended to help you resolve nearly any outstanding tax issue.
Get Help Online or by Phone
Many of the in-person services offered by the IRS are temporarily unavailable because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, they encourage taxpayers to call using their toll-free helpline: 800.829.1040. Another free tool is the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA).
The ITA is an online service that provides answers to a wide range of tax questions. It provides links to more than 50 questions ranging from the most common to some very complex international tax law issues. It also allows you to be very specific and personalize your searches for information.
Getting Answers to Other Questions
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) is an addition resource for helpful tax information. They provide downloadable worksheets and handouts to help you organize the documents you need to prepare a return, and then offer ideas on how to save any refund you may receive.
You can search the IRS website for any of the programs that apply to you. Downloads from the CFPB website can be accessed in the “Resources for Tax Preparers” section under the Consumer Education tab.
i Tax Policy Center, Briefing Book, A citizen’s guide to the fascinating (though often complex) elements of the US tax system, Updated May 2020.