Tax season is now well under way, which means if you haven't started gathering your paperwork and combing through your records, it's time to get moving. The good news? Depending on your income level, you may not need to pay a dime to file your upcoming return.
How free file software works
If you earn less than $69,000 a year, you're eligible to use free file software. The IRS partners with various tax prep services to make this software available, and you can access it directly through the agency's website.
The upside of using free file software is that you're less likely to make a mistake on your return by submitting it electronically. In fact, the error rate for electronic returns is less than 1%, whereas among paper returns, it's a whopping 21%. Make a mistake on your taxes, and you could wind up getting your return rejected or having your refund delayed. And if you're not a particularly high earner, waiting longer to get that money could put you in tough spot financially, especially if you're counting on it to pay bills you've already incurred.
The other great thing about using free file software is that it's designed to alert you to the various tax credits you may be eligible for. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, is worth up to $6,557 and is available to low-income filers, and if you file electronically, you're less likely to miss out on it. There are also different credits specifically designed to provide financial relief for parents, so it pays to see what tax breaks you're eligible for.
Other types of free assistance
In addition to getting to file your taxes for free, you may be eligible for extra assistance depending on what your income looks like. If you earn less than $56,000 a year, you can get live help at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. These locally run sites match you up with an IRS-trained volunteer to walk you through your tax filing. You can use the IRS's lookup tool to find a site in your neck of the woods.
Furthermore, if you're 60 or older, you may be entitled to assistance via the TCE, or Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. To qualify, you must have an annual income under $56,000. Those who volunteer for the TCE program are particularly well-versed in tax issues that pertain to seniors, so it's a good option to explore. For example, if you're trying to figure out how to account for things like retirement plan withdrawals or pension income, a TCE representative can generally walk you through it.
Get moving on your taxes
The sooner you file your tax return, the sooner you'll get your refund (if you're eligible for one), and the sooner you'll be able to check one potentially stressful task off your list. You have until April 15 to submit your taxes this year, and if you don't have to shell out money to do so, there's really no sense in delaying.