Taxpayers have several options for getting free help to prepare and send their income tax returns during this year's filing season.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Free File Alliance, a coalition of tax software companies, make free tax preparation programs available online. This year, software is available from more than a dozen providers, including Jackson Hewitt, TaxSlayer and H&R Block.
In general, taxpayers whose income was less than $62,000 in 2015 can use the free online programs, which take users through their returns step by step.
Some companies, however, set different thresholds for using their free software. TurboTax, for instance, makes its free software available to those with adjusted gross income of $31,000 or less, while TaxAct sets its threshold at $50,000 or less. (Both programs are available to active-duty military personnel with income of up to $62,000.)
In addition, some software has limits based on the filer's age, or is available only to filers in specific states. Details are available on the IRS website (irs.gov/Help-&-Resources).
Filers who made more than $62,000 last year can use the IRS's "fillable forms," electronic versions of paper tax forms that let filers prepare and send their returns online. The forms perform mathematical calculations, but provide limited tax guidance.
If you want help in person without paying a professional preparer, you may have some options. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers in-person help from trained volunteers, generally to those with incomes of $54,000 or less (tinyurl.com/hd8c72a). You can search for a location by ZIP code.
In addition, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free tax help in all states. This year, about 35,000 trained volunteers will work at 5,000 locations that opened last week (tinyurl.com/4rkrqxo). Tax-Aide volunteers can help prepare and file most returns, with some exceptions, like those involving rental income. The program is geared to older filers with low to moderate incomes, "but we don't turn anyone away," said Lynnette Lee-Villanueva, vice president of AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.