Senior citizens in the United States are special, with retirement benefits and advantages that come with aging. But, few can avoid filing a federal income tax return, even with a subsistence income level. This task, like birthdays, comes around faster every year for seniors. Preparing and filing a federal income tax return may be a daunting project, but there is free help available.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides assistance for filing federal income taxes with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). This program uses certified volunteers to assist anyone whose annual income is under $51,000.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program is for income tax filers over the age of 60. Most of the assistance in this program comes from trained volunteers from non-profit organizations, including the AARP. The AARP volunteers are available throughout the nation at public libraries and similar central locations to assist seniors or the elderly with tax returns and questions.
Free File is an IRS program that allows the qualified taxpayer to file federal income taxes free online. This program bases qualification on adjusted gross income of less than $57,000 and it is not limited to seniors. This program also has free forms to complete online without tax software. You can fill in the forms and print with no income limitations.
Assemble necessary information early in the year. You will need identification, Social Security number, birthdate, copies of your W-2 and 1099 forms for the current year, and your banking information for direct deposit. Your previous year's tax return is helpful. If you are married filing jointly, you will both need to attend an appointment meeting to e-file the tax return, because it requires electronic signatures.
Schedule an appointment as early as possible. You cannot anticipate when your W-2 or 1099 forms will arrive, but as soon as you have all the information for filing your return, schedule the appointment. You may save hours of waiting by scheduling early, before others get all the forms and information.
If you have a tax question, search the AARP frequently asked questions or ask your question at the AARP website and get answers while you wait for your appointment.
The IRS general number has TCE information for seniors at 800-829-1040. The AARP list of filing locations is available at 888-227-7669. VITA site locations are at 800-906-9887.
Filing early has the added advantage of getting an earlier refund. Of course, you also may have to pay early if you owe federal income tax this year. At least, you will know what you owe and can consider how to obtain the necessary funds well before April 15. If you owe money, you can print your tax return and send it by mail with your check for payment.
Beware of paid tax preparation websites that offer free filing. Some are free filing only, not free use of the software. Others are “free” until you are satisfied. Once you file your tax return, you pay, based on the assumption that you are satisfied.