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How To Get Cheap (or Free) Help With Your Tax Return

Published April 28, 2021

5 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

Nowadays, do-it-yourself online tax filing is easily the most popular way to file you tax return. For many people, it’s convenient, cheap, and takes care of your tax needs with ease. Despite that, plenty of us still want to speak with a tax professional before we hit that ‘submit’ button. After all, taxes can be complicated. One of the best ways to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the tax breaks that you’re eligible for is to ask a pro. This is especially true for 2020, since factors like COVID-19 stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, or other government incentives might come into play. A tax professional will be up to date on the latest tax rules. They can help you get the maximum refund. (Or at least, lower your tax liability). However, paying an accountant or tax attorney can be expensive. If your budget is tight, we have good news. There are a few low cost (and even free) resources that can offer you some tax return help.

Low Cost Tax Help

First of all, if you meet certain income requirements (less than $72,000), you can qualify for Free File. It’s an IRS program that connects you with tax preparers (or software) that are part of the program. They will help you file your federal tax return for free. You might still have to pay for your state tax return, though, if you get help. At least Free File will take care of the federal forms. Luckily, the same person who prepared your federal return can probably prepare your state taxes too. Or at least point you in the right direction. It will likely be a cheaper option than hiring a whole different person.

States Can Also Have Its Own Programs

Don’t forget to check your state’s specific websites for help as well. California, for example, has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. They are designed to help those who need it the most. First, VITA is primarily designed to help those with lower income, have disabilities, speak limited English, or are military personnel. On the other hand, TCE is directly aimed at those 60 years of age and older.

I wish more people knew about the TCE program, in particular. I go to the library regularly. Every time I’ve visited over the last two months, there were people looking for paper tax return forms that the library provides. I can picture those people sitting at home, trying to make sense of all the paperwork and doing calculations by hand. How much easier would it be for those elders to get free assistance to answer their tax questions and help them file?

Speaking of elders, the AARP also has a tax program designed to help anyone who meets certain requirements. Their Tax-Aide is the largest volunteer-run tax assistance service in the country. It’s targeted towards anyone older than 50, with low-to-moderate income. So if you qualify and need help with some of the finer points of your tax return, AARP’s volunteers will help — either remotely or in-person. And no need to worry about the qualifications of these volunteers. AARP’s tax aides are fully trained and IRS-certified every year. They aren’t just random people trying to help.

Local University

If you live in a college town, check with your local university. In many cases, accounting students will volunteer their time to help taxpayers fill out their returns. They will help you identify deductions and credits, and provide answers to your tax questions. If you have a more complex tax return, this can be a great help. Most of the time, the students are overseen by their professors. That means there is a more experienced backup on hand, in case your return requires a deeper understanding of the tax code. This kind of help is often free, or at least very affordable.

Local Tax Clinic

Another option for low cost tax help is to seek out your local tax clinic. Most cities have one. A local tax clinic will offer workshops or clinics, designed to educate you about and help you with your tax return. They may charge a small fee, but it will likely be much cheaper than paying an accountant to do your return. Sometimes these clinics are even free, depending on your income level. These clinics are a great way to get the professional advice you need, but still complete your tax return yourself. After a couple visits, you will hopefully feel confident enough to complete your returns all by yourself. Which leads us too…

Do-It-Yourself

Just file your own return. Now we do realize you’re reading an article about how to get cheap help with your tax return. So that means you’re probably not super comfortable in doing your own return. However, filing your own taxes is a skill worth learning. If you want to truly take command of your own finances, understanding your taxes is an important step.

It’s truly never been easier to file your own taxes. User friendly tax software is widely available. Many of them will even “optimize” your return by suggesting deductions and credits you may have missed. There’s also a wealth of tax return resources available online. Even your most obscure tax question is probably just a Google search away from being answered. It may take a bit of time to research and educate yourself on the process. However, doing your own taxes remains one of the best ways to save yourself money on filing costs.

The Bottom Line

While it’s true that you can file your own return, maybe you’re just not comfortable enough to do it. However, filing online is probably the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to get your taxes done these days. Most tax software even includes a free version (although you may have to look harder to find it.)

On the other hand, maybe taxes are so stressful that you just want a professional to take care of them. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, someone with tax return experience probably knows things that you don’t. At the very least, they will probably be able to fill out the paperwork faster than you can. This can speed up the whole process, which is helpful during tax season. If you need a hand with your tax return, don’t be afraid of the potential cost keep you from seeking help. Look around. There are plenty of low cost (and even free) resources that might be available to you.

income tax return help

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David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs MoneyNing.com, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.

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