This year, taxes are due on April 18, 2017. That seems like it’s far away, but it definitely sneaks up on you quicker than you’d think!
Beside avoiding procrastination, filing your taxes earlier helps you reduce the odds that you’ll be a victim of tax identity theft. That’s because the IRS only accepts one return for each social security number, so if an identity thief files a fake return before you get to your real one, you’ll have more than a headache on your hands.
If you’re looking to file and don’t want to do it yourself, but also don’t want to drop a ton of cash, check out these four cheap and/or free tax preparation options.
VITA is a free tax preparation service for low- and middle-income Americans. Trained volunteers help you get your information straight in person, and then run it by the supervising volunteer, who has even more training. Once you’ve made it through all of your interviews, which can take about one to three hours depending, they e-File your return for you, and you’re good to go!
You do have to make less than $54,000 to qualify for this program for the 2016 tax year. Those income limits change based on your geographic location, and specific life circumstances. You’ll have to run all of your family’s specifics by the organization that runs VITA in your area before being granted an appointment.
Free File is another IRS-sponsored way to get free tax preparation. They’ve partnered up with some tax preparation software companies to allow households with income under $64,000 to use that software for free. In many states, you can even file your state return for free using this method. Just be sure to check out this wizard tool that will show you which software is best for your specific situation.
Transparent Software Options
If you don’t meet those income requirements, you can still file your taxes affordably with guidance from tax software. There are really expensive options that come with a big price tag and hidden fees, and then there are affordable, transparent options like FreeTaxUSA.
The Federal returns you file with them are always free. Even if you’re self-employed or own a small business. Even if you’re a homeowner. State returns are $12.95, and, if you want, you can pay an extra $6.99 to file amended returns, get audit assistance or access their live chat with front-of-the-line privileges. Right now you can get 10% off your entire order using promo code FREETAXUSA10.
Big Box Tax Preparation
This is my least favorite option. The biggest reason is that in my experience, I haven’t found it to be affordable at all.
One year, I took my taxes into a big box store. I had multiple state returns because of frequent moves. Income tax for one state was supposed to be waived because of military status and state law, but this guy refused to listen to me, and wanted me to pay additional taxes erroneously. And then pay him $300+ just for doing a bad job.
I walked out the door. These people aren’t CPAs. They’re seasonal workers who receive some seasonal training. I called up my state to make sure I wasn’t totally screwing up, and they confirmed that the big box store guy was wrong.
In my opinion, the best way to use big box tax preparation is as a free consult if you’re preparing your taxes yourself. Otherwise, especially if you’re a contractor and have lot of schedules and forms to attach to your 1040, they can be a big money suck.
Cheap and Free Tax Preparation Exists
If you’ve been putting off filing your taxes because of cost, worry no more. There are ways to get your return filed for free or moderate costs, without taking the risk of DIYing it.
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