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Here's where to get free tax prep help

Tax day is nearly here and many millions of Americans still need to file their 2019 tax returns and pay any tax they owe.

The typical deadline of April 15 was extended in March by the Internal Revenue Service due to the coronavirus pandemic. About 70% of Americans qualify for free tax preparation based on their income and simple tax returns; they just need to know where to look.

“There are lots of resources that are available,” said Rebecca Thompson, a tax expert and the national project director of Prosperity Now’s Taxpayer Opportunity Network. “These programs are a true diamond in the rough. Most people who are eligible are not aware of the availability of these services.”

Here’s where to get free help.

A female financial advisor sits with a woman at her dining room table with laptop and financial reports helping her monthly budget and investments. She is showing her client how to read a financial report as she works on her computer to do monthly finances, pay taxes and save money for the future.
About 70% of Americans qualify for free tax preparation based on their income and simple tax returns; they just need to know where to look. (Photo: Getty Creative)

For the ‘tech savvy’

“For those people who are tech savvy and can navigate a smart phone but are still daunted by the notion preparing taxes on their own, they can go to,” Thompson said.

This fully virtual service was developed by Code for America, a nonprofit that partnered with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites nationally. Taxpayers can connect with IRS-certified volunteers who can prepare your returns no matter where you are in the country. The platform also provides a do-it-yourself option for those who are more ambitious.

The platform can also help people access coronavirus stimulus payments if they have not received one already.

Go through the IRS

Sign on IRS headquarter building in downtown Washington, DC

People who made $64,000 or less can go to IRS Free File that provides a pre-qualification tool. Simply answer questions about income and your tax scenario, and you’ll be offered a choice of tax preparation companies that will file your federal and state tax returns for free.

Local resources

Even though the pandemic has limited services that local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, sites can provide, there are still services that can help. Many are offering a drop-off tax preparation service that’s “like the dry cleaners,” Thompson said.

Simply drop off your documents and an IRS-certified volunteer will prepare your return. When they are finished, you can puck up your finished returns. These community-based organizations are spread across the country, Thompson said.

Some sites may have in-person services for those who are comfortable meeting that way. You can find a VITA site near you using the IRS VITA locator.

Be prepared

1040 income tax form and w-2 wage statement with a federal Treasury refund check. Closeup with selective focusing.
Those who need to file their 2016 returns to get a refund will be prioritized first for free tax prep services. (Photo: Getty Creative)

No matter which free tax prep service you use, it’s important to have all the necessary documents ready to ensure a smooth process. Make sure to bring in all income documents such as Form W-2s and Form 1099s. Bring your identification, such as a driver’s license, and your Social Security cards for the filing taxpayer, any joint filers, and dependents.

If you’re expecting a refund, have your direct deposit information at the ready, so you can your refund faster.

These services also can prepare prior year returns that you didn’t file. But since the deadline is around the corner, the service may prioritize which returns are done first, Thompson said, with those who need to file their 2016 returns to get a refund going first and those who owe taxes for 2019 going second.

“It’s a bit of a triage,” she said.

Janna is an editor for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @JannaHerron.

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