I recently completed filing 4 returns for my family (parents, 2 sisters) and myself. I remembered the time when my parents filed their first taxes barely a year after we moved to US. They didn’t know anything about taxes and consulted a tax preparer to file . They received a refund from the government and pay $200 to prepare their taxes. For them, it was worth it since they didn’t know any other way. This continued on for 3 years until I started the business school and took my first accounting class. First, I found out about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). I attended the training and took the certification. I learned how to file my family’s taxes and realized that the tax preparer were really making a lot of money from us and families that earned very little, just like my parents. So if you find yourself in a situation where you need help filing your taxes, but can’t afford to hire an accountant here are 4 ways to do it for free.
- VITA (Volunteer Income Assistance) – In my county, this is run by United Way. They have sites in the library and have hours from the morning till evening. If you do go, please bear in mind that this is run by volunteers and there will be wait times, especially when you come after 5PM or on weekends. Typically, the peak starts at end of January when companies start sending W2s. Also, VITA will only accept returns for families or individuals with income less than $54K.
- IRS Free file – If you’re income is below $64K, there are software that will let you file for free. You have many options from the IRS website. If you don’t feel confident, go to the library and check to see if they provide assistance in preparing or reviewing tax returns. Check the hours of volunteers and go when they are there. The managers will be more than happy to assist you with question. From my county, they even let you use their software to file.
- IRS Free fillable forms – If you earn more than $64K, IRS have a free fillable forms which you can use to e-file. Think of this as the electronic version of the tax return. Take it slowly and read through the instructions, you’ll find valuable lessons from doing your taxes this way. This is what I’m doing from the past 6 years now, until this year when I brought a tax software with my siblings.
- Old paper version – You can still get 1040 forms from the library and the paper version. I don’t recommend filing on paper. Instead, use this as a guide. If you don’t have a computer, check out your local library.
I highly recommend learning to file your taxes. I don’t have anything against professional tax preparer. I am a CPA myself and knows the value that we bring. But if you don’t own a business, don’t own properties and don’t have a lot of investment, you might be able to avail some of the free resources above. Or better yet, try to do it yourself. If you have time, volunteer for VITA and take the training. This program don’t just help you prepare your taxes but lead you to other programs in the community that can help you form some financial stability. If you know about it , please help spread the word.