Investing in You: Where to get free tax-filing help

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Tax season is upon us. ( istock.com )

Free tax-filing help.

Yes, you read that correctly. You can get free assistance with filing your taxes, though some income and other qualifying limits may apply, depending on the program.

So many readers wrote in after a recent column on crooked tax preparers that we decided to revisit the topic of getting your 2014 income-tax returns together.

This filing season promises to be extra crazy because of a new wrinkle: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Many Americans will be subject to penalties or will have to file new forms to avoid those penalties, accountants and tax-industry experts say.

IRS's VITA program. Qualifying taxpayers can find free, in-person guidance at many locations through the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

Go to www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers. Type in your zip code to locate the nearest VITA office, or use the VITA Locator Tool by calling 1-800-906-9887.

VITA volunteers must pass an IRS ethics exam and obtain IRS certification before they can prepare and file returns, says Alice Abreu, James E. Beasley Professor of Law at Temple University. Abreu has volunteered as a VITA preparer, "as have many of my Temple Law students."

A number of local organizations operate VITA sites, including the Campaign for Working Families (www.cwfphilly.org), headed by Mary Arthur, and Ceiba (www.ceibaphiladelphia.org), a coalition of Latino community organizations headed by Will Gonzalez. Visit their websites to find Philadelphia and New Jersey locations, which open Jan. 26 for early birds and operate through April 15 for procrastinators.

VITA sites accept no payment and are run by nonprofit organizations. Volunteers spend evenings and weekends providing tax preparation for low-income, and often immigrant, taxpayers.

"They do it out of a sense of duty and desire to render a public service," Abreu said. "I'm intensely proud that so many Temple students volunteer, and I have even developed a course in which students use their VITA experience as a lens through which to examine the connections between low-income taxpayer policy and the effect of those policies on actual taxpayers, and then make legislative or regulatory recommendations."

Tax Counseling for the Elderly. This program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 or older and have lower incomes. It specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Its IRS-certified volunteers are often retired individuals associated with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. A majority of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation's Tax Aide program.

To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax Aide site, go to www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action). Or call AARP at 1-888-227-7669. The system will ask for your zip code to find an office and phone number locally.

Tax prep is available from Feb. 1 to April 15 at 6,500 locations.

MyFreeTaxes. This campaign provides free state and federal tax preparation and filing assistance for families earning $60,000 or less in 2014.

The MyFreeTaxes Partnership offers online and in-person tax preparation, with a list of locations at its website (www.myfreetaxes.com), where free tax forms are also available.

Or you can call toll-free at 1-855-698-9435 to receive assistance.

Sponsored by the Walmart Foundation - in cooperation with Goodwill Industries International, the National Disability Institute, and the United Way - MyFreeTaxes preparation and filing services have helped millions of families.

Just to see what kinds of resources were in this area, I plugged zip code 19107 into the website and found a couple of locations:

At AARP's Philadelphia office, 1650 Market St. (phone: 267-825-9923), you need to make an appointment.

At the Center City Supersite, 1207 Chestnut St., fourth floor, it's first-come, first-served.

 


earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

 

@erinarvedlund