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Free tax help available through IRS

Published On: Jan 17 2012 03:29:13 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 01 2011 10:33:55 AM CST
Taxes, upset, angry taxpayer on phone, forms

iStock / groveb

By Panda Strong, Contributing Writer

Tax season is one that fills many with dread. However, there is plenty of help available if you remain calm and take your questions one at a time.

Begin by asking yourself what type of help you need. Do you need the encouragement of a person on the phone? Do you need face-to-face help in preparing your taxes? Are you comfortable working with an online site?

IRS Telephone Assistance

The most complete and authoritative tax information is provided by the Internal Revenue Service. For official IRS telephone assistance, call 1-800-829-1040.

Anyone may call this number to ask questions regarding forms, tax laws or preparation of tax returns.

If you are a low-income taxpayer, there is a program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).

VITA provides volunteers to assist you in preparing and filing your tax return for free. Call 1-800-829-1040 to find the location nearest you. Hearing impaired people can call 1-800-829-4059 (TDD) and for business information you can call 1-800-829-4933.

Other Telephone Assistance

The TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) is another IRS program. By calling 1-888-227-7669, it will allow you to locate a tax aide site sponsored by the AARP in your area.

These sites provide face-to-face help with preparing your taxes. If you are 60 or older, this service is free.

The United Way also provides assistance through the IRS VITA program. Call 1-800-358-8832 to contact the United Way.

According to UWBA.com, there is a great deal of information to be obtained in this manner. Information on tax credits such as the child tax credit and earned income tax credit (EITC) is offered.

Remember, even if you pay no taxes, you may qualify for a tax credit, but you must file to receive it.

The Web site NationalBusiness.org recommends the following places to obtain tax help:

  • Your Local Public Library: These institutions have long been known for having tax forms available to pick up. They are also places used by many groups to provide information and assistance to taxpayers.A list of who is sponsoring each event, along with date and time information, should be available by calling or by looking on the bulletin boards. Also remember that libraries often provide online access if you wish to contact any of the sites discussed later.
  • Local Community Centers: Local senior centers, social service agencies or neighborhood community centers often provide space for many groups that offer tax preparation assistance.Other places that offer such assistance would be the YMCA and the YWCA.
  • Your Church Or Ministry: Any caring group that you are familiar with and that you would feel comfortable asking for advice most likely can point you in the right direction.

Special Military Information

Military personnel from any branch of the service can file at any military VITA center, according to the LifeLines Web site.

The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the operation of the VITA military tax programs worldwide.

The program provides free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing and other tax assistance for Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard members and their families.

Internet Assistance

For those who prefer working online, Fox Business online recommends the official site of the IRS.

This site has all the official answers. The site provides a link to "Free File" where low income taxpayers can file electronically without a fee.

A branch link will answer many common questions that you have, while another branch link allows you to access the IRS site in Spanish.

Besides having a lookup feature for free tax aide sites in your area, the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) Web site provides good information and checklists on deductions.

In addition, you might try 211us.org, a site that advocates dialing 211 to connect people with important community services in areas where this service is available. If your community does not have a 211 call center, your area may have a 311 service.

According to Wikipedia online, the 311 system handles non-emergency municipal services. This should include information on locations set up to assist taxpayers.

The Social Security Web site suggests calling 1-800-772-1213 to get recorded information, including tax information, or to find a local Social Security office.

If a social worker already assists you with paperwork such as food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers, they would also be a good source for information on where to receive tax preparation help.

If you do not have a Social Security number for yourself or a dependent, you should file form SS-5 with the SSA.

Caution With Web Searches

There are many, many additional sites available on the Internet that offer free tax assistance. These can be accessed by anyone doing a Google search on "free tax help" or related terms.

Many of these are very helpful, but that is not true of all sites.

As Joe Chadwick, director of investment services for the Longevity Alliance, points out on Fox Business online, "There is a great wealth of information, but there is virtually no quality control exercised on the (Internet) as a whole, so you have to be a bit cautious, even on seemingly benign topics like taxes."