There are many ways to secure tax preparation assistance. From in-person help to computer programs, people who need support to complete tax returns can find an appropriate outlet. Some options — including tax preparation firms, websites, and software programs — charge for the service. Others are free or charge on a sliding scale based on income or age. To find tax preparation assistance, it may be best to seek guidance from the local or regional government tax office or research available programs online.
Tax preparation firms provide assistance in preparing and filing income taxes for a fee. The professional tax preparer will ask questions about income, charitable giving, home ownership, and other factors that impact taxes before filling out the necessary forms. After the client signs the forms, the preparation firm generally will file the tax returns with the appropriate government agency
Other fee-based tax preparation assistance options involve using an online or personal computer software program to generate the necessary paperwork. These options generally walk the user through a series of questions about finances during the previous year. The programs then identify and auto-fill both the main tax forms and any supplemental materials that must be filed. Most of these programs charge a flat fee and some also charge an additional e-filing fee. Users may sometimes chose to print and mail in the returns instead.
For those that qualify based on income or age, free tax preparation assistance usually is available as well. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, for example, provides tax preparation assistance through its "Free File" program for people who earn less than a certain income. Free File recommends almost two dozen online assistance services and offers a selection tool based on age, location, income, and other factors.
Tax preparation assistance centers are another free option for some people. To qualify, clients generally must be low- or moderate-income, senior citizens, disabled, or in a military family. Clients who do not quality for free assistance sometimes can receive help at the centers based on a sliding fee scale. Usually sponsored by local governments as a service to residents, these centers are staffed by trained volunteers. The volunteers collect relevant tax information and help clients fill in the necessary forms. Some centers also will file income tax returns for their clients.
Regardless of the type of tax preparation assistance method used, it is important to have all relevant financial information readily available. Gather all earning statements, year-end bank statements, prior year tax returns, and all other income- and deduction-related information before starting a computer tax assistance program or going to an in-person appointment. Be sure to bring proof of identity to in-person appointments as well.