Luckily for some tax filers, the IRS has two programs to help those in need of filing assistance: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program.
VITA offers tax help to low- to moderate-income families. (Typically, this means $49,000 in income or less.) VITA is reserved for folks who can’t prepare their returns themselves. Volunteers—all certified, by the way—are sponsored by various organizations to receive training to help prepare basic tax returns. VITA sites can be found at libraries, schools, malls, and other community locations. To find your nearest VITA site, call 1-800-906-9887.
The TCE program provides free tax help to filers age 60 and above. Trained volunteers from various non-profit organizations help seniors by offering tax counseling and basic return preparations. As part of the program, the AARP offers assistance at over 7,000 sites during filing season. To locate an AARP assistance site, call 1-888-227-7669.
Members of the military are in luck: the armed forces also have a strong VITA program. The Armed Forces Tax Counsel (AFTC) supervises military tax preparation services worldwide. VITA sites are available on most military posts, and are equipped to offer tax guidance, advice, and return preparation. In addition, these sites are trained to help with military specific tax issues, including combat zone tax benefits, and Earned Income Tax Credit guidelines.
Per the IRS, here’s all the information you’ll want to bring to a tax help site:
- Social Security Cards for you, your spouse and dependents. You can also bring a Social Security Number verification letter from the Social Security Administration
- If you, your spouse, or your dependents have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) you’ll want the relevant assignment letters
- If you’re applying for an ITIN, you’ll need proof of foreign status
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents
- Any wage and earning statements: Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, etc. from all employers
- Any interest and dividend statements (Forms 1099)
- Copies of last year’s federal and state returns, if available
- A blank check or other proof of your bank account routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit
- The total amount paid for daycare and your daycare provider’s tax identifying number, either the provider’s Social Security Number or the provider’s business Employer Identification Number
- If you’re married filing jointly, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms to file electronically
The IRS stresses that accurate Social Security numbers are crucial. Many returns are delayed each year because names and numbers do not match records. Worse, credits and deductions are often disallowed. For this reason, volunteers should check the accuracy of names and numbers against filers’ Social Security cards.
Once you find a site (using the phone numbers above) make sure you bring the right paperwork and you’re all set!