Free options for filing your taxes

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The IRS supports two programs that provide free tax assistance to underserved groups. One is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA, which generally helps people with incomes of $58,000 or less, as well as people with disabilities and those who speak limited English. The program works with local community groups, whose offices are staffed during tax season by IRS-trained volunteers. You can use the IRS locator tool to find a site near you. Many require you to make an appointment. (You can also go to GetYourRefund.org, a VITA partner that helps families with slightly higher incomes – up to $66,000.)

The second is the Senior Tax Counseling Program, which generally provides free tax assistance to people age 60 and older. The program specializes in tax issues specific to seniors, such as pensions and retirement-related issues. (Many sites are operated by the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.)

MilTax, a Department of Defense program, provides free tax preparation and assistance to service members and their families. The program includes tax software that answers Army-specific questions, such as deployments and combat and training pay.

The IRS Free File program offers free online tax programs to people earning $73,000 or less. The program began in 2003 as a way to bring do-it-yourself tax software to the public, through a pact between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a collection of commercial vendors.

But the program was not widely used, in part because the IRS lacked the money to promote it. While 70% of filers were eligible to use it, only 2.4% did, according to a federal review. H&R Block left the federal program in 2020, and last year Intuit, which makes the popular TurboTax program, also said it was leaving as well. In its regulatory filings, Intuit said it left because the Free File agreement was amended in 2019 to “eliminate the IRS’ commitment” that the agency would not offer a competing service.

Still, eight software vendors are participating this year, including TaxAct and TaxSlayer. “These companies have a good product,” said Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File alliance. Some states also offer free tax filings through FreeFile.

Surveys have shown that a large majority of users are happy with Free File, Hugo said. “People love the product,” he said. “We just need more people to know that.”

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