Tax season is now underway. And for people already strapped for cash, it can be a real financial burden.
The average cost to have a professional do your taxes in 2015 was $273. And if your budget is already stretched thin, that can be a significant expense.
However, you can avoid spending money on expensive tax preparation software or tax professionals.
For low- to moderate-income families, there are free tax filing services available. Whether you need one-on-assistance or prefer to do it alone, here are two ways you can file your taxes for free.
2 free tax filing options with United Way
According to Matt Aliberti, Impact Director with United Way Worldwide, tax season is an opportunity for many people to become more stable.
“United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community,” Aliberti says. “Tax time represents the greatest financial opportunity of the year for many people – a tax refund can help pay off a credit card, pay for tuition, or get you on solid ground.”
“And it’s important to maximize that refund by not paying unnecessary fees, and getting all the credits you are eligible for,” adds Aliberti.
For many families, the annual tax refund is a much-needed windfall. But many lose out on large chunks of it due to high filing costs and additional fees to get quick access to their refund.
However, United Way wants to help people hold onto all of the money they earn. That’s why they operate two initiatives that help people file taxes for free: MyFreeTaxes and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
“MyFreeTaxes and VITA are non-profit programs,” says Aliberti. “Their goal is to help you maximize the financial opportunities around tax season – saving on filing fees, maximizing your refund and obtaining any credits you may be eligible for like the EITC, and even connecting you with other local resources you may not have known about.”
MyFreeTaxes is an online resource for free federal and state tax filing. It’s secure, safe, and easy to do, with step-by-step navigation and prompts.
Unlike many other programs, you can file up to three state returns for free with MyFreeTaxes along with your federal return, helping you save money in fees.
“In 2017, the income cap for MyFreeTaxes is $64,000,” explains Aliberti. “[So] if the income on the tax return is under $64,000, you’ll be able to file for free.”
If you plan on filing your taxes online on your own, United Way offers this helpful checklist to help you through the process.
And you don’t have to do it all alone, either. If you have questions along the way, you can call the MyFreeTaxes Helpline at 1-855-MY-TX-HELP, and an IRS-certified operator will assist you.
For those who prefer to have in-person assistance with their taxes, most United Way chapters also operate VITA sites.
VITA offers free tax filing services for families who make $54,000 or less. The sites are staffed by IRS-certified volunteers who provide basic income tax return preparation and electronic filing.
Your VITA tax preparer can also help you get other valuable information to maximize your tax refund.
For example, they will help you find out if you qualify for tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If eligible, you could get thousands back in your refund.
When meeting with a VITA volunteer, make sure to bring the following with you:
- Valid photo identification, like a driver’s license
- Copy of your 2015 tax return, if available
- Social Security card or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number for you, your spouse, and any children born before 12/31/2016
- Income documentation, including W-2 forms for all jobs held during 2016, and any 1099 forms showing other income for the year
- Bank account information (including routing and account numbers) or a blank check for direct deposit, if applicable
- Health Care 1095A to show proof of health care coverage
Impact of these programs on the community
According to Aliberti, nearly 10 million tax returns have been filed through MyFreeTaxes and VITA sites since 2009, helping return billions of dollars back to people who need it.
“Over $10 billion in tax refunds have been returned to local communities because of MyFreeTaxes and VITA,” says Aliberti. “Nearly $3 billion of that is through tax credits.”
Giving people access to tools and resources for free tax filing helps them get 100 percent of the refund they deserve. That money can go a long way too when it comes to paying down debt, building up an emergency fund, or paying for another necessary expense.
Free tax filing in your area
To file your taxes online, just visit MyFreeTaxes.
Or, if you would like to visit a VITA site for in-person assistance, you can search the database for a site near you. You can also call your local 2-1-1 Information & Assistance helpline to find a location and make an appointment.
And once you get your tax refund, start thinking about a few unique ways to spend your tax refund in 2017.