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Cultural Competency: Knowing Who You Can Trust To Do Your Taxes
Free Tax Preparation: Really?
Of the many different things we must worry about in our daily lives, worry no more about where to go to get your taxes done - for free. These free sites, where you can go in person, are manned by retired tax attorneys, retired math professors, retired engineers, retired CPAs. These are not just people off the street - they are well-trained people who have to pass an exam each year to be able to bring you this service. Before the exam, they take a one-week orientation and training course. They are all volunteers.
Two years ago, I attended one such training for three out of the five days. During those three days, I was amazed at how knowledgeable these people are. And, I learned about the free tax prep sites.
Free Tax Prep Sites
There are two types of free tax prep sites: Tax-Aide Sites (sponsored by the AARP) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites, or VITA sites, as they are called (sponsored by the IRS). The difference between the two sites lies in what your income level is.
Anyone can go to a Tax-Aide Site if you are 17 years of age and older and there is no income level. However, having said that, your taxes need to be simple. If you have your own business with many tax forms to fill out (called Schedules in tax terminology), or if you have foreign property and/or investments, they do not typically do those and will refer you to a private tax preparer, more equipped with the time to do those types of tax filings.
If you go to a VITA site, however, you must fall within the income parameters of the Earned Income Tax Credit, or thereabout. You are not turned away if it is not an exact amount, but the VITA sites are established to really help those who would have difficulty in paying someone to do their taxes.
How To Contact These Free Sites
For the Tax-Aide sites, go to www.aarp.org. In the upper left-hand corner, click on the words "Tax-Aide." This will bring you to the Tax-Aide page. In the middle, click on AARP Tax-Aide Foundation Locator. This will bring you to a search page where you can put in your address or just your zip code and within the mile range that you also select, a list of free tax preparation sites will come up.
For the VITA sites, go to www.irs.gov and in the upper right-hand corner, type in VITA sites. This will bring you to a page of several links. Unfortunately, that page is not always updated and this year is no exception. If you call the number listed, however, 1-800-906-9887, and tell them city and state where you live, they will tell you where the nearest VITA site is to you. As a rule of thumb, usually your public library or local credit union is a VITA site. Or, you can call your town hall and ask where the nearest VITA prep site is.
How These Free Sites Work
Not all sites are open every day of the week and not all are walk-in sites, either. Having said that, when you get the information either from the AARP site or by calling the 800 number above, ask the varied hours, etc. There are some sites where you will need to make an appointment.
Be on time to your appointment and make sure you bring the items in the checklist below, crafted for your convenience and ease of use.
CHECKLIST OF ITEMS TO BRING TO YOUR FREE TAX SITE
CHECKLIST FOR VITA/TAX-AIDE SITE
1. Picture ID - preferably a Passport or License
2. Social Security Card or ITIN Card*
3. W-2s, 10099s and any other wage statements
4. Bank statements, showing dividend and interest
5. Mortgage statement, property tax statement, condo fees statement
6. Charitable contributions receipts
7. Receipts from medical expenses
8. Childcare expense receipts and name of your provider
9. Blank envelope with stamp on it for mailing forms that cannot be e-filed*
Next in this series: the ITIN - what it is and how to obtain one.