2009-04-08 / Seniors

How To Find Free Tax Help

Dear Savvy Senior,

Where can a tired, old, do-it yourself tax filer get help? Since I've retired, I started doing my own taxes, but this year I have several tax questions and need some assistance.

Befuddled Barry

Dear Barry:

For anyone seeking tax help, the free lunch is alive and well. The Internal Revenue Service, AARP, and several Web sites offer free assistance to the befuddled. Here are the different ways you can get help and where to go to find it.

Phone Help

You can get fast answers to your basic tax questions by simply calling the IRS help line. To speak to a representative, call 800-829-1040 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. during tax season in your local time zone, Monday through Friday. When you call, be sure you write down the rep's ID number, the date and time you called and the answers. That way, if you get audited due to incorrect advice by the IRS rep, you can avoid penalties.

Other helpful IRS numbers to note are 800-829-4933 for business tax questions; 800-829-4477, which provides recorded messages on about 150 different tax topics and lets you check the status of your tax refund, and 800-829-3676, where you can order free federal tax forms and publications.

Web Help

The IRS Web site is another option that offers mountains of tax information, and believe it or not it's pretty user-friendly. At www.irs.gov, you can free-file (if your adjusted gross income was $56,000 or less in 2008), download or order tax forms and publications, learn about tax law changes and look up answers to your tax questions through the Search tab or at their Tax Topics, Frequently Asked Questions and Tax Trails sections.

AARP also provides online tax assistance at www.aarp.org/money/taxaide and a place where you can ask your federal tax questions for free. It usually takes about a week to get an answer. Check the site's FAQs first to see if your questions have already been answered.

Intuit, the makers of TurboTax, provide free tax tips and calculators and offer a community forum where other participants can answer your questions. Go www.Turbotax.intuit.com and click on "Live Community" in the box on the right. You'll need to register before posting a question.

Another free resource where you can post tax questions and get answers is the Usenet group, misc.taxes.moderated. Go to www.asktax.org/googroups.html and click on "Google Groups" to get there. You'll need to register to post. TaxMama.com is another site that provides information and may answer your tax questions for free.

Face to Face

If you can't get your questions answered over the phone or on the Web, you can get one-on-one help by visiting your IRS walk-in Taxpayer Assistance Center. To locate your nearby center, visit www.irs.gov/localcontacts or call 800- 829-1040. You don't need to make an appointment, but it can't hurt to call ahead to find out when the person best able to answer your questions will be available.

Free Tax Preparation If you need even more help, the IRS sponsors two programs- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) that can prepare your income tax returns for you, for free, if you qualify. These services are available in thousands of communities nationwide. The VITA program primarily offers tax help to people of low to moderate income (generally, $42,000 and below) who cannot prepare their own tax returns, while the TCE program provides free tax help to people age 60 and older. Call 800- 906-9887 to find a VITA or TCE site near you. Also, check with AARP, the largest TCE participant providing free tax preparation and counseling services at more than 7,000 sites nationwide. You don't have to be a member to get help. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site near you, call 888- 227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/money/taxaide.

Savvy Note: For answers to state income tax questions, check with your state tax agency. Most states provide assistance either by phone or e-mail. For links to state agencies, see www.taxadmin.org - click on "Links".

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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