Free Tax Assistance for Moderate Income and Older Taxpayers

January 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Taxes

Mr. ToughMoneyLove tries to seek the hard truth about personal finance wherever it may lead.  One of those areas is the confusion and complexity caused by our friends at that wonderful institution, the Internal Revenue Service.  It always bothered me that in addition to sending the IRS so much of our money, many of us were forced to pay others to tell us how much we owed.  Thus, I decided when I had to file my first tax return some 38 years ago, I would learn to do it myself.   For all of these years, I have been waiting for Congress to junk the entire tax code and start over with something simpler, like a flat tax.  I’m still waiting.  Meanwhile, the tax code gets more complex.  Thankfully, tax preparation software came along, making it easier to keep up.

Not everyone is able to properly prepare their own federal income tax returns.  I understand that.  As a result, some end up paying too much tax, not getting all of the credits to which they are entitled, or paying interest and/or penalties.  Worse, they may have their return prepared by one of the franchised commercial tax preparers, who then see that as an opportunity to upsell the taxpayer into an instant refund anticipation loan.  That bothers me at many levels.

So, when I learned that the IRS had two programs in place to provide free tax preparation assistance to some taxpayers, I decided to volunteer.  In fact, this past weekend I completed my basic, intermediate, and advanced certification testing as a volunteer tax preparer for these programs.   Starting next month, I will be spending an afternoon each week and some Saturdays helping other folks prepare and file their tax returns.  

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA)

The VITA program is for taxpayers with moderate incomes (generally below $42,000).   Certified VITA volunteers are sponsored by various organizations and receive training to help prepare basic federal tax returns at community centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations across the country.  Certified VITA volunteers prepare 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ returns, along with most of the standard tax Schedules.  By rule, certain complex tax issues are off-limits to the VITA programs.

There are also VITA programs near military bases that supply free tax preparation assistance for military personnel and their families.

The VITA program is quite popular in our area and appointments are already being scheduled.  Most VITA locations also offer free electronic filing.  To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-829-1040. 

Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program

The TCE Program provides free tax help to people age 60 and older.  The certified TCE volunteers provide free tax counseling and basic income tax return preparation.  The TCE volunteers are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.  Even though I’m a baby boomer, I’m one of the youngest TCE volunteers in my area.

The AARP is the largest non-profit participating in the VITA and TCE programs.  The AARP sponsored my training and testing.  It offers its Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season.  Trained and certified Tax-Aide volunteer-counselors help low-to-middle income taxpayers, with special attention given to taxpayers who are 60 and older.

So, if you or a family member need some help dealing with the IRS, don’t be shy and don’t feel obligated to pay for assistance.  Check with the IRS or AARP to see if you or your family member qualify for free help throught the VITA or TCE programs.

You can learn more at the VITA and Tax-Aide websites.

Image credit:  Craig Toocheck

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