S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
Every tax season, untold numbers of inland area residents rely on free tax preparation services offered by the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
For more than 50 years VITA has provided free tax help to people who make less than $57,000, people with disabilities and those who struggle with English; while TCE provides similar assistance to those 65 years of age and older who often have questions unique to seniors including issues related to pensions and retirement.
While the IRS manages the program broadly, the on-the-ground efforts are led by local partners and staffed by IRS-certified volunteers working to make a difference in their communities. The partners are typically nonprofit organizations whose VITA/TCE efforts are funded through IRS grants.
These “free” tax preparation services have earned a reputation over the years as a reliable and trusted source for tax preparation by those who rely on these services.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on grant recipients, the IRS has advised grant funds may be used for costs related to the cancellation of events, travel and other activities or pausing and restarting activities depending on the impact of the virus in local areas. Also, grant funds may be used to buy Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, wipes, cleaning supplies and services as long as the expenses are associated with the VITA/TCE program.
Local partners have taken several steps to keep their sites open during COVID-19. They include making appointment reminder calls to minimize the number of no-shows, educating clients at the initial contact of what to expect throughout the process, exercising social distancing during the intake process, staggering appointments 15 minutes apart to prevent multiple taxpayers waiting on a preparer, placing taxpayers in separate rooms for the various steps in the process to minimize contact, and they have installed plexiglass at the workstations.
VITA/TCE partners have also received guidance regarding what to do should a taxpayer/volunteer test positive at their site. The process includes following state guidelines for contacting taxpayers/volunteers that may have been in close contact with the taxpayer or volunteer who tested positive to advise of the possible exposure and closing the site for cleaning.
VITA/TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations across the Inland Empire. To locate the nearest VITA/ TCE site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.
Taxpayers should check out What to Bring to your VITA/TCE appointment to ensure they bring all the required documents and information needed for volunteers to provide the requested taxpayer assistance.
To locate the nearest VITA/TCE site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.
IRS Free File Program
Those who prefer filing their own tax documents can do so for free via the IRS Free File Program, a public-private partnership between the IRS and several tax preparation and filing software companies who provide their products for free.
The IRS Free File Program however is only available to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (or AGI) is $72,000 or less.
There is however Free File Fillable Forms available for taxpayers whose income (AGI) is greater than $72,000. These electronic federal tax forms that can be filled out and filed online for free, require that taxpayers know how to prepare his/her own tax return.
To participate in either of these options visit apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/.
Military one Source
For local veterans, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Network of support currently offers “free” tax services including tax preparation, e-filing software, and personalized support that address the realities of military life including deployments, combat, training pay, housing/rentals, multistate filings, living outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS) and more. For more information regarding these services, visit MilitaryoneSource.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.