By Mary Pilon
Republican Congressman Nicholas Longworth (1869-1931) “cutting taxes” for the press photographers.
We can’t change the fact that we have to pay taxes.
But we might be able to change how much we pay to get help filing our taxes.
The IRS has long offered the Free File program for those under a certain income level. For 2008, those who made less than $56,000 were eligible for free preparation, filing and printing of their return. Yes, free. All the big tax-prep software companies participate, though many bury the info on their own sites, so be sure to check out the official list from the IRS. (Why buy the fancy software when you can get the basic filing for free?)
FiLife reviewed all of the free-filing software last year and made this handy chart of how they stacked up. Go for one of the FiLife top picks if the IRS list daunts you, although all of the participating tax providers should be able to get the job done.
This year, the IRS didn’t stop with taxpayers under the $56,000 mark. Even if you made more than that in 2008, you’re probably eligible for the IRS electronic filing program. which means you
can file electronically for free. Many e-filing companies are also offering their software, with customer-service bells and whistles, at no charge.
So let’s say you’re puttering along on your free return and you hit a software or tax-related question. Instead of calling up your CPA, you can call the IRS helpline for free. Many of the providers that participate in free-file and e-file programs also offer free question-and-answer services.
It’s easy to demonize the IRS, but the truth is, they want tax season to be less painful for taxpayers and themselves. With over 200 million corporate and individual tax returns processed last year, who can blame them? If more people file electronically, refunds can be sent faster and data can be corrected before it’s filed improperly.
There are other options too. Your employer’s human-resource departments may have untapped taxperts who will help you with a 1040 for free or at a reduced rate. If you belong to any professional organizations or clubs, you might be entitled to a discount. For example, military service members can get free preparation assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. AARP has offerings for seniors. Many universities and community colleges offer free tax help for students and faculty.