Volunteer Income Tax Assistance ProgramAs a former tax preparation volunteer during my military service days, I am always taken aback and appalled at the number of people who pay hard earned and tough saved dollars to have their basic income taxes forms prepared and filed for them - there is free tax assistance programs for most Americans! Every year millions of American taxpayers shell out their hard earned money in getting their income taxes prepared and filed from them. If your are dolling out dollars for your tax preparation every year, make sure that you do not qualify for free tax preparation help through one of the following tax preparation assistance programs that are likely available right in your own community. Some tax preparation assistance programs are income based eligible while others are age based for senior citizens, or even military specific without regard to income or age.The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is available in most U.S. cities and communities, but it is income based, meaning that to qualify for the preparation and filing assistance, tax payers must generally make less than $50,000 and cannot prepare their own taxes. While the IRS maintains a partial list of VITA sites throughout the U.S. it is not all inclusive so it may be best to check with your local IRS office for known community-based sites; you're not likely to find out from the local H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt tax preparation office - check you local phone book, newspaper or with community based organizations for a more complete listing of VITA sites in your area. The IRS has set up a toll-free number for checking for local VITA sites; 800-906-9887.Military Free Tax Help Also under the VITA program, in conjunction with the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC), is free tax preparation help to military members and their family. As the military has many special provisions, allowances, additional deductions or exclusions, the VITA program is essential in addressing these military specific issues such as combat zone pay exclusions, basic allowance for housing (BAH) issues, and the ever volatile Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which is a tricky issues for military members receiving BAH, BAS (basic allowance for sustenance) or other compensations in kind that are not directly gross pay entitlements. VITA members working with the military and their families receive specialized training specific to military tax issues.As a former TAO (tax assistance officer) while I was in the military, I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that each year every TAO was required to undergo training and updated modules of tax training to better perform this volunteer task and to be best suited to assist fellow military personnel. With no intended disrespect to other "tax professionals" it is a simple reality that military tax issues require a specialized tax trained person versed in military pay, benefits and compensation matters. That "Q" in block 13 of the W2 is a big number - what does it mean? A military VITA volunteer will know!Specially trained VITA military tax preparation volunteers are versed in the most common situations that face most military personnel. This vital and military specific assistance helps ensure accuracy in filing and expediency in receiving refund; most are electronically filed for the service member and refunds are generally received in about one week's time. Free Senior Citizen Tax Preparation The definition of senior citizen and "elderly" is subjective - most of the time. For IRS and VITA purposes, we are subjecting those aged 60 or older to this term for the purposes of receiving free tax preparation and filing. The VITA program in conjunction with the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) works with community based non-profit organizations to provide free, basic tax counseling and basic tax return preparation. I emphasize basic here because those these volunteers receive IRS training, they are not tax professionals - if you have the need to file every schedule and form under the IRS code then you are likely in need of a professional, not a community trained volunteer.DIY Tax PreparationIf you have a basic tax return to prepare, don't shy away from the ability to do it yourself. There are a number of free online programs that you can use to complete you income tax return, or even if your return is a little left of basic, you can purchase tax software programs that will guide you through even seemingly difficult tax situations with ease.Stop Paying for Tax Preparation and FilingThe bottom line is that millions of American taxpayers spend money every year for tax preparation and filing when free assistance from VITA, TCE, AFTC, private and civic organizations (Senior Centers, American Legion, etc.) exists, and barring that, many free online programs or inexpensive tax preparation software programs exists to keep more money in the taxpayers pocket by not hiring out to expensive professional help when it is not likely necessary.
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