We're nearly two weeks into tax season, so it's time to get on with preparing returns, if you haven't already.
First, take a deep breath and remember that despite the huge changes to federal tax regulations that were recently approved, very few of them apply to the 2017 tax returns due in mid-April.
One exception, for those who itemize deductions, is that unreimbursed health care expenses for 2017 can be deducted if they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. That's more lenient than the previous 10 percent rule.
For most people, preparing 2017 income tax returns will be very much like last year. Still, it's a good idea to have some assistance, or at least use tax-preparation software, to avoid mistakes and math errors.
Many people can get access to software, and even in-person assistance, at no charge. In most cases there are limits on how much income you can have — generally, generous limits — to receive free assistance or free filing. In some cases, rules are more lenient for veterans, the elderly, the disabled, and people with limited English.
Here are some ways to locate those resources.
For in-person tax assistance, chances are there's a location near you where nonprofit groups and volunteers are ready to help. To find them:
- Visit SC Thrive online at scthrive.org or call 800-726-8774 (choose option 3). You can file your state and local tax returns at no cost if your adjusted gross income is less than $65,000, or $95,000 if married and filing jointly. Most households qualify, because most households have less taxable income than those limits.
- Trident United Way, in the greater Charleston area, partners with SC Thrive and provides free tax assistance at its Prosperity Center locations in Berkeley County (Moncks Corner, 843-761-6033) and Dorchester County (Summerville, 843-282-6294).
- AARP Foundation, under an agreement with the IRS, runs the Tax-Aide program for people with low to moderate incomes, using certified volunteers. To find locations visit aarp.org, call 888-OUR-AARP (888-687-2277), or email email@example.com.
- There's also the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program which, according to the IRS, "offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns." To find a location go online to irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep.
For those who don't need in-person assistance but would like free access to tax preparation software, there are many options.
- For individuals and families who earned less than $66,000 in 2017, visit myfreetaxes.com. It's a partnership between United Way and H&R Block, with free filing of state and local returns.
- SC Thrive (scthrive.org/filetaxes) appears to have the highest income limit for married couples filing jointly, at $95,000. The nonprofit group also says it will help check eligibility for any benefits, and can help fill out the federal financial aid form used by colleges, the FAFSA.
- Want more options? The South Carolina Department of Revenue lists multiple providers of free state and local tax filing. To find them, see the "Free File Options" list and use the links at dor.sc.gov/iit-filing.
- Too many choices? The IRS has an online "free file software lookup tool" that will tell you what free tax-filing software is available to you. Visit irs.gov to find it.
This time next year, the tax rules will be quite different, but trained volunteers will once again be standing by to help.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.