Like hurricane season, tax time comes back around every year, producing anxiety and raising the annual call for people to be prepared.
The good news is, when it comes to tax preparation, there’s plenty of free help available for the vast majority of taxpayers.
Free tax filing, with the aid of volunteers, nonprofit groups and software programs, is a great way to wade through the morass that is our tax code.
This year the tax provisions related to the Affordable Care Act will add to the level of complexity for some folks, but tax preparers are ready.
And while those with higher incomes can have complex tax returns, it’s working people with lower incomes who every year leave money on the table by overlooking tax credits — one more problem volunteer tax preparers can solve at no cost.
There are essentially three options for free filing. They are:
Get in-person help. At sites throughout the tri-county area, free tax prep will be offered, and most people qualify for that assistance.
Use Free File. If you prefer to do your own taxes with tax-prep software, and meet income guidelines, you can access popular tax programs online and file federal and South Carolina returns at no cost.
Fillable forms. For those who want no help from humans or software, state and federal tax forms can be filled out and filed online at no cost, with no income restrictions.
Here are details on how to find those different types of tax help:
Trident United Way and SC Thrive together offer in-person tax preparation to those with an adjusted gross income of $95,000 or less (filing jointly). The limit for single filers is $65,000.
The good news is, that income limit is high enough to cover about 80 percent of the nation’s tax filers. The bad news is, those with complicated returns could be excluded because the free help is not available through this alliance if you have to file a Schedule C (self-employment income) or have rental income or capital gains to declare, among other exclusions.
To find Trident United Way tax prep help — locations, dates and times, and details — visit tuw.org/freetaxes or dial 211.
In-person assistance is also available from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, which the IRS says “offers free tax help to people who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.”
There’s also the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, or TCE, which the IRS says “offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.”
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program also has locations across Greater Charleston and runs many of the TCE sites.
To find VITA/TCE locations visit irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep or call 800-906-9887.
For AARP sites call 888-AARP-NOW (888-227-7669) or visit AARP.org/taxaide.
To access free name-brand tax-filing software online, here’s what to do:
For federal returns, if your adjusted gross income for 2014 was $60,000 or less you’re eligible. Visit freefile.irs.gov. Fillable forms also can be found there.
For South Carolina returns, income and age requirements vary among six software providers. To see those options visit sctax.org/services/free-file. Fillable forms for state returns can also be found at that site.
With any of these options, the quickest and most secure way to get a refund, if you are owed one, is to file electronic returns and use direct deposit.