Free Tax Filing Options

Free Tax Filing Options
Eileen St. Pierre, the Everyday Financial Planner

The 2017 tax filing season begins on January 29 and runs through April 17. Last year, over 51 million taxpayers prepared and e-filed their federal tax returns themselves. Kudos to them! Even if you do not plan on doing your taxes yourself, you need to be aware of your tax filing options. For many, you can get your taxes done for free if you qualify for certain programs.

The VITA Program

For those with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $54,000 or less, you can get your taxes done for free at a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) site. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing. Some sites offer assistance in Spanish and other languages. The IRS also has the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program that offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older. To find a VITA or TCE site in your community, use the IRS VITA/TCE Locator Tool or call 1-800-906-9887.

The Free File Program    

If your AGI is under $66,000, free software is provided by the members of the Free File Alliance, a consortium of 12 tax preparatory firms including H&R Block and Turbo Tax. You don’t actually download the software. Instead, you are linked securely to their site. Then the software takes you step-by-step through the process, building your return for you based on your answers to specific questions.

If you qualify for this program, choose a provider from the list that also offers free e-filing of your state return. Too confusing? The IRS has a neat wizard tool that will help you find providers.

If your AGI is above $66,000, you can DIY with free online fillable forms and then e-file for free. However, this system does not support state tax returns and only does basic calculations.

The United Way

The United Way has partnered with H&R Block to offer a free service MyFreeTaxes for those with an AGI below $66,000. This includes both federal and state return filing. When you are transferred to H&R Block, make sure the MyFreeTaxes logo is in the upper left-hand corner after you log in.

Be aware of tax identity theft.

E-filing has also become popular with identity thieves. They use stolen Social Security numbers and other information to file fake returns and collect the refund that was supposed to go to you. Taxpayers don’t realize they are victims until they try to file their taxes and find out someone else has already claimed their refund. For this reason, legislation requires the IRS to hold refunds of those taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit until February 15.

Remember that the new tax bill recently passed by Congress does not affect 2017 returns.