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WASHINGTON — All taxpayers have a fast, safe and free option when it comes to preparing their own federal taxes. It’s called Free File, and it’s available only at IRS.gov.
Free File offers brand-name tax software to people who earned $57,000 or less last year, which is 70 percent of all taxpayers. For those who earned more, there are free online fillable forms. Both options allow people to file returns electronically and use direct deposit, which is the fastest way to get refunds.
The nation’s leading tax software companies have partnered with the IRS to make their products available for free through IRS.gov. Each company sets its own eligibility criteria, generally based on income, state residency, age, military service or eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). There is also a software option that is available in Spanish for people who earned $30,000 or less.
Free File does the hard work for you. The software asks questions; you provide the answers. It picks the right forms, does the math and helps you find all the tax benefits for which you are eligible.
All participating Free File partners have been vetted and use the latest in security technology. Some Free File software providers also offer state tax returns for free or for a fee.
Free File Fillable Forms is the electronic version of IRS paper forms. It’s best for people experienced and comfortable preparing their own returns on paper. It does not support state tax returns.
Some Free File software products also are available in select free tax preparation sites operated by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). Taxpayers can use VITA or TCE computers to access Free File, prepare their own state and federal returns with a trained and certified volunteer on stand-by to help and e-file – all for free.
To find a participating site near you, go to IRS.gov and search for “VITA” to find a self- preparation site location near you.
More than 36 million people have used Free File since it started in 2003. You can explore all your options at http://www.irs.gov/freefile.
Businesses, organizations, states or local governments may want to promote Free File to their employees, customers or clients with products from the IRS. Just go to http://www.freefile.irs.gov/partners to see what you can do to help. There are printable posters, a tax-day countdown widget for websites and prepared social media posts for your use.
Taxpayers looking for tax preparation assistance should look into IRS sponsored, community-based, volunteer tax return preparation programs. Here are the top 10 things the IRS wants you to know about these volunteer programs.
- The IRS sponsors both the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs.
- The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program offers free tax help to people who earn less than $49,000.
- The Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older.
- The IRS trains community volunteers so they can help eligible taxpayers with several special credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Credit for the Elderly.
- Many volunteer sites have language specialists to assist people with limited English skills.
- More than 12,000 free tax preparation sites are open nationwide this year as the IRS continues to expand its partnerships with nonprofit and community organizations performing these vital tax preparation services.
- As part of the TCE program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at over 5,000 sites nationwide during the filing season. Trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteer counselors provide assistance to low-to-moderate people, with special attention paid to those 60 and older.
- The military also partners with the IRS to provide free tax assistance to military personnel and their families. The Armed Forces Tax Council consists of the tax program coordinators for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Volunteers are trained and equipped to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits.
- Locations and hours of operation are often available through city information hotlines and local community organizations.
- Local volunteer tax preparation site information is also available by calling the IRS toll-free number 1-800-906-9887. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 (888-AARPNOW) or visit www aarp.org.
WASHINGTON — Nearly 12,000 free tax preparation sites will be open nationwide this year as the Internal Revenue Service continues to expand its partnerships with nonprofit and community organizations performing vital tax preparation services for low-income and elderly taxpayers.
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help to people who earn less than $49,000. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older.
Today, partners and local officials will be hosting news conferences or issuing news releases nationwide to highlight the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and their free tax preparation programs. The EITC is already the government’s largest cash assistance program targeted to low-income Americans. However, not all eligible taxpayers may be aware or claim the EITC.
Taxpayers need to bring to the VITA/TCE sites the following items:
- Photo identification
- Valid Social Security cards for the taxpayer, spouse and dependents
- Birth dates for primary, secondary and dependents on the tax return
- Current year’s tax package, if received
- Wage and earning statement(s) Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, from all employers
- Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
- A copy of last year’s federal and state returns, if available
- Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit
- Other relevant information about income and expenses
- Total paid for day care
- Day care provider’s identifying number
To file taxes electronically on a Married Filing Jointly tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.
Trained community volunteers can help eligible taxpayers with all special credits, such as the EITC, Child Tax Credit or Credit for the Elderly. Also, many sites have language specialists to assist people with limited English skills.
In addition to free tax return preparation assistance, most sites use free electronic filing. Individuals taking advantage of the e-file program will receive their refunds in half the time compared to returns filed on paper. Taxpayers who use e-file and direct deposit can receive their refund in as few as 10 days. This year, taxpayers also can use the refunds to purchase U.S. Savings Bonds.
Taxpayers who file electronically also can opt to file now and pay later. If taxpayers owe, they can make a payment April 15 by authorizing an electronic funds withdrawal (direct debit) from a checking or savings account, paying by credit (Discover Card, American Express, MasterCard or VISA Card), or by check or money order (made out to the United States Treasury) using Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher.
As part of the IRS-sponsored TCE Program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at nearly 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season. Trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteer counselors help people of low-to-middle income with special attention to people age 60 and older. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit AARP’s Internet site.
The military also partners with the IRS to provide free tax assistance to military personnel and their families. The Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC) consists of the tax program coordinators for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The AFTC oversees the operation of the military tax programs worldwide, and serves as the main conduit for outreach by the IRS to military personnel and their families. Volunteers are trained and equipped to address military specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and the effect of the EITC guidelines.
For taxpayers who want to prepare and e-file their own tax returns, there is IRS Free File. This is a free service offered by approximately 20 companies who make their software available for free. Taxpayers with incomes of less than $57,000 are eligible to use Traditional Free File, which is the easy-to-use, interview-style software. For people with incomes of more than $57,000 or people who need little assistance, there is Free File Fillable Forms. For either service, taxpayers must go through irs.gov/freefile to access the programs.
EITC-eligible taxpayers also can seek free assistance at the 400 IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers nationwide. To assist EITC taxpayers, 167 IRS TACs will offer Saturday service on Jan. 30, Feb. 6 and Feb. 20.
IRS Patrol: Free File Now Available to Almost All Taxpayers; Software Can Help Find New Economic Recovery Tax Breaks that Could Be Overlooked
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service and its private-sector partners are making Free File available starting today. Most taxpayers can have free use of helpful tax preparation software and free electronic filing of the federal tax returns.
There are many new tax breaks this filing season and Free File software can make it easier for people to find all the credits and deductions they are due. Taxpayers must go through www.IRS.gov homepage or www.IRS.gov/freefile to access the free options.
“If cost is a barrier or if you’re wondering about free options, check out IRS.gov for Free File options. There’s something there for almost everybody,” said David R. Williams, director, Electronic Tax Administration and Refundable Credits. “Free File is a great choice for either the novice taxpayers who need some assistance or the experienced taxpayers who prefer to do the work themselves. It’s fast; it’s safe; it’s free.”
The Free File program provides free federal income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible taxpayers through a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Free File Alliance LLC, a group of approximately 20 private sector tax software companies.
Free File comes in two formats: Traditional Free File, which is available to taxpayers who meet specific criteria and Free File Fillable Forms, which is available to almost all taxpayers.
Approximately 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers, some 98 million people who meet the $57,000 income limit, are eligible for the user-friendly Traditional Free File. Traditional Free File provides step-by-step software help that asks simple questions and puts the answers on the correct tax forms.
Traditional Free File can help taxpayers identify new tax credits or deductions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for which they may be eligible. There are many new and expanded benefits for energy conservation, new car purchases, college tuition and first-time homebuyers.
Taxpayers must go through IRS.gov to access Free File. Each company sets its own eligibility criteria. For example, generally, eligibility criteria are based on state residency, age, income or military service. However, an individual or family with income of $57,000 will find tax preparation software they can use.
Taxpayers either can read over the company offers by clicking “I Will Choose a Company” or get a little help in making the selection by clicking “Help Me Find a Company.” With a little information, the tool will display those company offers for which taxpayers may be eligible.
Several companies offer their software in Spanish. Several also offer state tax preparation, although fees may apply. Taxpayers are under no obligation to make any purchases from the software companies.
For taxpayers who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns, there’s Free File Fillable Forms. Almost everyone is eligible for this service. There are no income limits and almost all tax forms are available.
This service provides electronic versions of IRS paper forms. Taxpayers can complete the tax forms online and file electronically. The fillable forms perform simple math functions, but do not use the question-and-answer software format. Free File Fillable Forms does not support state forms or state electronic filing.
Both Free File versions are highly popular among users. According to a recent survey, 98 percent of Traditional Free File users and 96 percent of Free File Fillable Forms users polled said they would recommend the Free File products to family and friends.
Taxpayers who use Traditional Free File or Free File Fillable Forms can enjoy all the benefits of IRS e-file – also for free.
By using the free e-file option, taxpayers also get the benefits of a fast refund, reduced error rate and a quick acknowledgement. By using e-file and direct deposit, taxpayers can get a refund in as few as 10 days. If people owe taxes, they also can control their payments and set a date such as April 15 for electronic payment. The error rate for an e-filed return is 1 percent, compared to 20 percent for a paper return. Unlike paper filers, e-filing taxpayers also will receive an acknowledgement that the IRS has received and accepted or rejected their returns.
Taxpayers who are eligible for the $8,000 or the $6,500 first-time homebuyer credit will not be able to e-file because they must attach proof of purchase to their tax return. However, these taxpayers still can use Free File to prepare their tax forms and then print and mail the returns to the IRS.
Free File is available 24-hours a day through April 15. For taxpayers who request an extension to file their federal returns, Free File will be available through October 15.
E-File Director’s Message: English | Spanish
Free File and Fillable Forms: English | Spanish |ASL
Ask Your Tax Preparer to e-File: English
First Time Filing a Tax Return?: English
E-File and Direct Deposit: English | Spanish |ASL
For these and other videos: YouTube/IRSVideos
WASHINGTON — IRS e-file, the popular electronic tax return delivery service used by two-thirds of the nation’s taxpayers, opens for business January 15 and marks 20 years of safely and securely transmitting nearly 800 million individual federal tax returns.
The Internal Revenue Service debuted e-file nationally in 1990, delivering 4.2 million tax returns. Last year, IRS e-file delivered 95 million tax returns, 66 percent of all returns filed.
“Electronic filing is more and more popular every year, and most taxpayers now e-file. IRS e-file means faster refunds. It means the option to file now and pay later if you owe additional tax. It means peace of mind knowing the IRS received the return because we send an acknowledgement. Those are the reasons this has been a popular service,” said Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner. “IRS e-file is safe, it’s easy and everyone should try it.”
Last year, more than 49 million taxpayers missed out on the e-file benefits. The IRS urges taxpayers, especially those people already using tax software, to take the next step and e-file their return or ask their preparer to e-file their return. The IRS urges tax preparers who electronically file some of their clients’ tax returns to consider filing all tax returns through e-file.
The IRS is working on faster acknowledgements of accepted or rejected returns. Last year, taxpayers received an acknowledgement within 48 hours that the IRS had accepted or rejected their return. Paper filers do not receive any acknowledgement. Also, if the IRS rejects an e-filed return, it will provide more specific explanations of the errors that caused the rejection. This will enable taxpayers to make corrections and quickly resubmit their returns.
IRS e-file offers the fastest, safest way for people to receive their tax refunds. By using e-file and direct deposit, taxpayers can get their refunds in as few as 10 days. Taxpayers even can opt to have their refund deposited into two or three financial accounts or purchase a U.S. Savings Bond.
For those who owe additional tax, e-file is still the best option. People can file now and pay later, as long as the payment is received by April 15. Taxpayers can set the date for an automatic withdrawal from their financial accounts or they can pay by credit card. People also can e-file and pay by check by simply attaching the payment to a voucher that is mailed to the IRS.
Other e-file benefits include a reduced error rate (1 percent compared to nearly 20 percent on a paper return), which means a decreased likelihood of hearing from the IRS. Also, federal tax returns are delivered to the IRS through a highly secure, encrypted transmission system. Just like paper returns, e-filed returns remain confidential.
There are three ways to use e-file: through tax preparers, through most tax preparation software or through IRS Free File. The IRS does not charge for e-file. Many tax preparers and software products also offer free e-filing with their services.
As people become more comfortable using computers and the Internet for financial transactions, the IRS has seen a huge growth in the number of people who are preparing their own tax returns with the help of software. For people seeking free electronic options, IRS Free File offers something for almost everyone through two formats.
Traditional Free File provides free tax preparation software and free electronic filing to individuals or families who earn less than $57,000. Traditional Free File is a public-private partnership in which approximately 20 tax software manufacturers make their tax preparation software and e-filing available for free.
Everyone can use Free File Fillable Forms. This service, now in its second year, provides free online tax forms that can be completed and filed electronically. These are electronic versions of IRS paper forms. This program is ideal for people who are comfortable preparing their own returns with little assistance.
People looking for a tax preparer who files electronically and for more information on e-file can review IRS e-file for Individuals. Taxpayers also can locate an e-file authorized tax professional nearest to them by doing a zip code search.
By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA
Knowing when to prepare your own return and when to hire a professional can be confusing. I suppose if you have some training in the world of tax preparation that preparing your own return is a fine idea. However, the IRS’s release of the “Free File” tax tips listed below made me think that it might be a good idea to talk about when you should contact a professional.
Now, if your only source of income is a W2 from a single employer, you have not changed jobs during the year, you don’t own your home, you don’t have any questions about dependents, and your income is relatively low, then I think you are pretty safe preparing your own tax return. Although I suggest that you buy some tax software to walk you through the process or check out the IRS’s Free File Program.
Okay, sooo if you are unsure of how to treat a certain situation or your return is more complicated than the example above, you might want to consider contacting a professional when:
- You are itemizing deductions – unless you have a good grip on alternative minimum taxes, you could cause yourself some additional tax by improperly prepaying property taxes or state income tax. There is also the possibility that you could miss out on some current year deductions by not prepaying some property or state income taxes…confused? Well now is the time to call the professional.
- You have a rental property – do you know the rules about passive activities, participation rules, grouping activities?…NO.. Then it’s time to call the professional.
- You are self-employed – do you know what constitutes space for a home office? How about when meals are limited and when they are not? How about gifts or vehicle expenses – actual vs mileage…Ya know, if you are self-employed you should just call a professional.
- You sold assets or have investment income – Do you know the difference between outside and inside basis? For that matter, do you know what basis means? Do you know what the following tax forms are for, 1099-S, 1099B, 1099INT, 1099Div, 1099G,Schedule K-1…NO…It’s time to call the professional.
- You supported someone who is not your child – do you know the dependant rules? Honesty, you might think that you do, but these rules can be complicated – if you supported someone who is not your child, you should contact a professional.
Well, I think that’s enough for now. If you are still interested in preparing your own return, here are some IRS free file tips:
The IRS Presents:
The IRS Free File service provides free federal income tax return preparation and electronic filing for all taxpayers. All you need is access to a computer and the Internet and you can prepare and e-file your federal tax return for free.
Free File is offered through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of private-sector tax software companies. Since Free File’s debut in 2003, more than 27 million returns have been prepared and e-filed through this program.
Free File offers two options. The first is Traditional Free File, which includes approximately 20 tax preparation software products from which to choose. Taxpayers with 2009 incomes of $57,000 or less are eligible for this service. The second option is Free File Fillable Forms, which is an electronic version of IRS paper forms. All taxpayers can use Free File Fillable Forms to prepare and file tax forms electronically.
Use the following steps to file your return through IRS Free File:
Step 1. Get Started Access IRS.gov and click the Free File logo or go to www.irs.gov/freefile. You must access Free File companies through the official IRS Web site to qualify for the free service.
Step 2. Determine Your Eligibility If your 2009 income was $57,000 or less, you’re eligible for Traditional Free File’s easy-to-use, step-by-step software. If your income was higher, you are eligible for Free File Fillable Forms.
Step 3. Link to Free File Company Service If you opt for Traditional Free File, you can choose one of the approximate 20 offerings by reviewing which one fits your situation. You can click “I Will Choose A Free File Company” or “Help Me Find A Free File Company.” To get started with Free File Fillable Forms, just click the “Choose Free File Fillable Forms” button.
Step 4. Prepare and e-file your Federal Income Tax Return Either Traditional Free File or Free File Fillable Forms will allow you to file your return electronically, for free.
Both the fillable-forms option and the “full service” Free File offerings are only available through IRS.gov. Whether you are new to Free File or a returning taxpayer, you must access Free File through IRS.gov; otherwise, the provider may charge a fee.