It may be January, but April 15 will be here before you know it and your federal and state taxes will be due. For many of us, it can be confusing and overwhelming to prepare our tax returns. Odds are you have questions.
How much to you have to earn before you must pay taxes? Do you have to pay taxes on your pension? What is the standard deduction for seniors? What, if any, taxes do you have to pay on your Social Security benefits? What do you have to do to receive the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled?
To deal with confusing, complicated and ever-changing tax laws, various programs offer trained community volunteers to help you with free tax return preparation. Assistance includes help to receive special credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit and Credit for the Elderly. Most of these programs also offer free electronic filing (e-filing). People who file their returns electronically receive their refunds in half the time compared to returns filed on paper. You can receive your refund even faster if you have it deposited directly into your bank account.
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help to lower income (generally, $40,000 per year or less) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. Certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations receive training to help prepare basic tax returns in communities across the country. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-829-1040.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program provides free tax help to people age 60 and older. Trained volunteers provide counseling and basic income tax return preparation. Volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. For more information about TCE, call 1-800-829-1040.
AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season. Trained and certified Tax-Aide volunteer counselors help people of low to middle income, with special attention to those age 60 and older. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669.
Any tax preparation program will need you to bring:
• Proof of identification - a picture ID or driver's license;
• Social Security numbers for you, your spouse and any dependents you are claiming on your return;
• Birth dates for you, your spouse and any dependents;
• Wage and earning statements (Forms W-2, W-2G or 1099-R) from all employers;
• Interest and dividend statements from banks (Form 1099);
• A copy of last year's tax return;
• If you were paid Social Security benefits, your SSA-1099;
• If you received a pension or annuity, your 1099-R;
• All forms indicating federal income tax paid;
• If applicable, unemployment compensation statements;
• Child care provider information (name, provider's Social Security Number or the provider's business Employer Identification Number);
• All receipts or canceled checks for items such as medical expenses, taxes paid, mortgage interest paid and charitable contributions, if you are itemizing deductions; and
• Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit of any refunds into your account. If you and your spouse are filing taxes electronically on a married, joint tax return, you both must be present to sign the forms.
You can contact the IRS to request a free copy of your previous years' tax return by calling 1-800-829-1040, or you can order by mail using IRS Form 4506T. Your public library usually will have copies of the form, or you can find them online at www.IRS.gov.
While paying taxes may be inevitable, these free programs can make preparing your tax return easier.