How do I Choose the Best Federal Tax Return Preparation Service?

K. Testa

Some issues to think about when choosing among federal tax return preparation services include the complexity of your income tax information, the costs of different preparation methods, and whether you are in a special category that could qualify you for free tax assistance. Depending on the answers to these questions, you can select the best method of federal tax return preparation. Preparing and submitting one’s tax return online is often the quickest method. Another option is to use a tax preparation software program, which can vary in cost. Many people also seek personal assistance, which also ranges from free to paid, depending on the individual situation.

Many well-known tax preparation services now offer online assistance.
Many well-known tax preparation services now offer online assistance.

In the U.S., the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers free electronic filing for qualified individuals using its Free File program. Consulting the IRS website for details is recommended, because there are usually certain conditions one must meet, such as an income threshold. The site walks taxpayers through the process to help them determine whether they qualify for the free service. It is usually easiest if the tax return is straightforward. People who do not qualify for Free File can still sometimes download fillable forms, complete them, and submit them online at no cost.

Certain people may qualify for free volunteer tax preparation services. There are several programs available in the U.S.; for instance, people age 60 or older can often qualify for a federal program called Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program aids taxpayers with low to moderate incomes. Under the VITA Program, military personnel also usually qualify for free federal tax return preparation services. VITA volunteers typically provide their services at locations such as public libraries and shopping malls.

Some people prefer to do the majority of the federal tax return preparation themselves and then have a professional review the information. Such businesses also usually offer audit assistance services. Several franchises throughout the U.S. and Canada provide these services for varying fees. In general, they can prepare everything for you if you provide them with the relevant financial information. The completed returns can then be submitted either electronically or by regular mail.

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