How to File Your Taxes for Free
It’s that time of the year again–tax season. This year tax season spans from January 29th – April 17th.
“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin
A few years ago when I was still in school, I went to a few tax planning classes as part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. This program trains volunteers to file taxes for low to moderate income individuals and families. Volunteers are mostly local accounting students and tax professionals who are required to keep current on changes through professional development hours. As neither of those two, I went “for fun” because I didn’t know much about taxes and figured learning about it could be helpful. With school, work, and trying not to overextend myself, I ended up not taking the certification exam, but I did learn a lot. Not enough to call myself a tax professional, but enough of the basics to not feel completely clueless.
You don’t have to take classes or even spend too much time reading to file on your own. If you’re filing a simple tax return this year, there are plenty of free resources to guide you when self-filing, as well as find those more knowledgeable to assist you.
Free Tax Assistance
Below are services for in-person assistance up to a certain income level (including locations specific to Miami):
In Miami, around 80% of people qualify for free tax assistance through VITA. To be eligible you should have a household income of $54,000 or less. Many locations also assist those who speak Spanish or Creole. You can find more information on branch locations and what to bring on the Miami-Dade County website. VITA is a nationwide service so if you’re outside of Miami, you can find locations near you in the IRS link below.
Some organizations with VITA locations in Miami include:
- United Way of Miami
- Miami-Dade College
The City of Miami and City of Miami Beach also have locations available for their residents.
Similar to VITA, the IRS also offers nationwide Tax Counseling for the Elderly assistance known as TCE. This program offers free tax help for individuals over 60 years of age year-round, with volunteers who are trained on questions regarding pensions and retirement. No income limit is set on this service. More information can be found on the IRS website.
Catalyst Miami offers free tax preparation for Miami households earning $64,000 or less. Locations and information on what to bring can be found on the Catalyst Miami website.
City of Miami Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET)
City of Miami NET offices are available for free tax preparation for households with annual income up to $56,000 from January 4th to April 15th. Locations and more information can be found on the City of Miami NET website.
Free Self-Filing Options
If you don’t qualify for free tax assistance based on income, there are other affordable options. For simple returns, many tax filing resources are available to guide you through the steps so you can file yourself.
The IRS website has a free e-filing software for incomes below $66,000 (with state return) and another for incomes above $66,000. There’s tons of information available to use their site. The IRS estimates 70% of tax filers can do their taxes for free.
Simple tax returns on H&R block can be filed for free. For a limited time, H&R block also offers free filing in-person for a 1040EZ filing. Typically this means you earn up to $100,000 and have no dependents–a whole list of who is eligible is on their site.
For a limited time, simple tax returns can be filed for free online with TurboTax.
When to consider a CPA:
A CPA is a Certified Public Accountant who has passed a rigorous exam, is required to keep current on financial changes through professional development, and is highly qualified to provide expert financial advice. The cost of filing your taxes through a CPA can vary based on the complexity of your return. However, the price can be worth it to get expert advice when you have a more complex filing situation.
You should consider filing your taxes with a CPA when:
- You have multiple income sources including freelance work, own a business, have rental properties or have multiple investment accounts.
- Feel anxious about doing taxes yourself and have questions regarding your situation.
If you expect to get a refund this year, file early. Identify theft is a huge problem during tax season. The longer you wait to file, the more time an identity thief has to file as you and claim your refund.
Use precaution when using online sites to file. Make sure the site has a security lock next to the site’s URL on your browser which indicates the site is encrypted and keeps your information secure.
You’ll receive refunds faster by using the e-file and direct deposit options.
Finally: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
As always, personal finance is personal to each individual. For specific questions regarding your tax situation, consult with a tax professional. I am not affiliated or compensated by any of the services above. For questions regarding each specific service, you can find their contact info on each respective website.