It's tough to know all the answers at tax time, particularly in a year with massive tax law changes. Sometimes people need help, but where should they turn? Here are a few options:
The IRS has answers to most tax questions online. Its website also has a number of tools to help you find what you need, including an interactive tax assistant, searchable tax topic lists and frequently asked questions. The agency urges people to look online at IRS.gov for answers before calling, because telephone wait times can be lengthy.
If you want, talk to a paid tax professional.
Various people can prepare your taxes, including certified public accountants, enrolled agents and attorneys. While anyone with a preparer tax identification number can prepare a return, the IRS points out that tax preparers have differing levels of skill, education and expertise.
Enrolled agents, attorneys and CPAs can represent their clients on any matter with the IRS, including audits, appeals and payment or collection issues. Other kinds of tax preparers have limited practice rights; that means they can represent clients whose returns they prepared and signed, but only before certain IRS employees. They cannot represent clients on appeals or collection issues even if they prepared the return.
The IRS has an online directory to help you search for qualified professionals in your area.
Many people use tax software to complete their taxes. These software programs typically have built-in or add-on services of their own to offer assistance. TurboTax, for one, offers TurboTax Live, which provides rapid access to CPAs, enrolled agents and tax attorneys to help answer questions and make sure taxes are done right.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free tax help to moderate and low-income individuals, and to people with disabilities or taxpayers with limited English skills who need extra assistance. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic help. To find a location near you, use the tool found through the IRS website or call 800-906-9887.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program focuses on taxpayers 60 or older. Its IRS-certified volunteers can answer questions about pensions, retirement and other issues unique to seniors, according to the IRS.
The AARP Foundation's Tax-Aid program runs the majority of the TCE sites nationwide. Locations can be found on the IRS or AARP websites or by calling 800-906-9887 or 888-227-7669.
LOW-INCOME TAXPAYER CLINICS
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics provide education and resolve disputes for low-income individuals. These clinics are independent of the IRS. Each clinic decides if you meet income guidelines and other criteria before it agrees to represent you.
The LITCs can represent you before the IRS or in court for audits, appeals, tax collection and other tax matters.
The services are provided for free or for a nominal fee, according to the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Services. You can find one near you at the Taxpayer Advocate's website.
MilTax is the tax service provided by Military One, an organization that coordinates with the Department of Defense to provide free resources for veterans and their immediate family up to a year after retirement or separation from the military.
MilTax's online software allows eligible individuals to file their federal taxes and up to three state returns for free. It also provides tax consultants by phone to answer questions about deployment, multistate filing, combat pay and other pertinent issues.
It is available online at MilitaryOneSource.mil or by phone at 800-342-9647.
TAXPAYER ASSISTANCE CENTERS
Taxpayer assistance centers are IRS-run locations that are available to help people who need face-to-face help. Once known informally as walk-in clinics, you now need an appointment to visit. The number of these centers has shrunk in recent years, so use the IRS website to find the location closest to you.
TAXPAYER ADVOCATE SERVICE
The Taxpayer Advocate Service helps people resolve problems with the IRS and recommends ways to prevent problems.
It's not designed to provide direct help for individuals in completing their taxes, but it does have a bevy of information online to assist taxpayers. It also wants to hear from people who are experiencing economic hardship or find the IRS is not responding to them in a timely fashion and need help. While it's an arm of the IRS, it's intended to be taxpayers' voice in the system.