Free Tax Help for Seniors
Groups Provide Volunteers in Many Communities
Receiving help in preparing a senior's taxes can be a tremendous relief to caregivers, who may be busy with other aspects of caregiving or confused about complex tax rules. Fortunately, many well-trained volunteers are available to provide free tax assistance for seniors or their caregivers.
Better yet, these volunteers can often be found in convenient community locations such as senior centers, libraries, churches, hospitals, shopping malls, or retirement homes. The Internal Revenue Service is involved with two nationwide programs that train volunteers to prepare taxes for qualifying individuals.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) involves IRS-trained volunteers who provide free assistance with basic income tax return preparation to individuals for whom paid assistance may be out of reach. Some of the people VITA serve include low-income and fixed-income individuals, people with disabilities or special needs, and seniors.
Another program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE), is designed primarily for people who are at least 60, especially those who are homebound or living in facilities. IRS-trained volunteers from nonprofit organizations provide free basic income tax return preparation to seniors. If the senior is unable to come to a local TCE site, the volunteer will go to the senior's home.
For the VITA/TCE site nearest you, call the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040. Please note that this is a phone number with several pre-recorded options. First you will be given the choice of whether to proceed in English or Spanish. You will then be given two other options about paying taxes, followed by a short pause. After that, you will be given a list of eight topics from which to choose.
After pressing the appropriate number, you should be connected to an actual person, who can then transfer your call to someone who can tell you the nearest VITA site. Since this information is pretty far down on a "tree" of choices, it is important to be patient and persistent when making this phone call.
Another way to locate the nearest site is to call the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP's Tax-Aide program was launched in 1968 under a cooperative agreement with the IRS and has more than 31,000 trained and certified volunteers nationwide. The program is available each year from Feb. 1 to April 15. During the off-season, the program continues to provide online tax counseling.
Don't worry that this program may be only for seniors - either a senior or caregiver can make an appointment and receive help. If you are a caregiver making an appointment to have a senior's taxes done - for example, if the senior has dementia or another serious illness - simply explain the senior's situation in your initial phone call to Tax Aide. Call AARP toll-free at (888) 227-7669 to find your local Tax-Aide site.
In addition to these national programs, senior centers often organize help at a local level, such as by arranging for a retired CPA to help seniors with their taxes. Your local Area Agency on Aging also may have information about local tax help programs.
If you decide to tackle a senior's taxes on your own, you may want to use IRS toll-free numbers to obtain free tax information. You can order tax forms and other publications (for example, "Older Tax Payers," document No. 554) by calling (800) 829-3676. Tax forms can also be downloaded from the IRS website, http://www.irs.gov
You can get answers to specific tax questions by calling your local IRS office at (800) 829-1040. Please note that this is a phone number with a "tree" of pre-recorded choices, and you may have to call more than once, and listen carefully to ascertain how to get your specific question answered. It will be helpful if you write your questions ahead of time and keep paper and pencil handy when calling for information.