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Need Help With Taxes?

(Get it!)

If you’re new to filing taxes or have a more difficult return, getting qualified tax help can take some of the pressure off. Free help from government-sponsored volunteers and free tax-filing software are available to people who earn below a certain limit — and it’s not as low as you might think.


If you made less than $54,000 last year, you are eligible to use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where volunteers prepare your return for free. The IRS sponsors the program, but VITA sites can be in community centers, schools, libraries or college campuses. Use the free tax help locator to see what’s available near you.

If you pay to have your taxes done at a storefront tax preparer, be warned that, while they likely have more experience than VITA volunteers, the preparers are seasonal workers who might be getting paid by the form. And watch out for “discount” tax prep software. Check reviews and research the company before buying anything.

You can always DIY your return with your own tax software, but if you own a house or sold stock, the basic store-bought software might not have what you need. If you made less than $66,000 last year, you can use Free File.


If you’re going to any tax preparer, you’ll need to bring the right documentation, including:

  • Valid identification — driver’s license or government-issued photo ID
  • Social Security card or verification letter
  • W-2s and 1099s
  • Records of self-employment earnings
  • Interest and dividend statements
  • Copies of last year’s state and federal returns
  • Proof of health care coverage for the tax year (or proof of exemption)
  • Records of your children’s day care expenses (name and address of caregiver, including their tax ID number or Social Security number)
  • Your bank routing number and account number to direct deposit your refund

If you’re married filing jointly, you’ll have to provide all of this information for both you and your spouse.


Whether the preparer is a VITA volunteer or a paid accountant, they must sign your return and use a preparer tax identification number (PTIN).

Keep in mind that you are responsible for what is on your return, even if someone else prepares it. Preparers are required to ask you detailed questions to accurately capture your income and expenses, and to match you with possible tax credits and deductions. If it seems like your tax preparer is rushing through the process, don’t be afraid to stop and tell them you’d prefer to go elsewhere. At the end of the day, it is your money and record on the line. It might be awkward, but it’s better to get it right the first time than pay penalties to the IRS.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]