Even if you’re expecting a tax refund, this time of year can be, well, taxing on your wallet when it comes to paying for tax preparation services. According to a National Society of Accountants survey, hiring a tax return preparer cost an average of $273 for an itemized Form 1040 with Schedule A and a state tax return in 2014. That can be a lot of money for someone on a fixed income. It is an 11 percent increase from two years ago when the survey was last conducted.
The good news is that, if you qualify, you can get free help filing your return and not spend a dime.
Here are some programs to investigate:
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help for those who make $53,000 a year or less and need assistance filing their return. Simply use the handy VITA Locator Tool or call 1-800-906-9887 to find the site closest to you. This program is usually offered at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other public locations. This year, more than 90,000 volunteers are expected to participate through 13,000 community sites.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program is geared toward those over 60 who have questions or need help filing their returns. Volunteers, usually through nonprofit groups, offer their time at 5,000 locations nationwide via a grant from the IRS. To locate the nearest TCE site, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669.
Look for local help. If you live in New York City, for example, you could have your tax return prepared via the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program, which helped New Yorkers get back more than $85 million in tax refunds and credits. Eligibility requirements include earning $53,000 or less with dependents or $20,000 or less without dependents. Likewise, the New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA) has a similar program.
Rather file your taxes online instead of in person? There are lots of ways to do so for free — or on the cheap!