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How to Prepare and File Your Taxes for Free

Experts can help answer stimulus payment questions this tax season

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The IRS starts accepting 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12 and after two rounds of stimulus payments, there are questions about reconciling incorrect or missing payments on taxes.

You can get help with your questions without paying for basic tax preparation services.

Here are some options.

Community Tax Centers

You can find free tax preparation services and e-filing help at community tax centers. IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax help to filers who earn less than $58,000 a year.

If you’re in the Dallas area, you can find a community tax center here.

There are various levels of tax preparation assistance – including a full-service option for people without reliable internet access.

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“You'll hand somebody, through your car window, your tax documents. They will go and scan them right there on-site and bring them back to you," said Greg Mangum, vice president of economic mobility at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. "Then you'll go home and then somebody will give you a call or connect with you virtually,”

You can find Scan 2 Go sites here. Some require an appointment.

There are also free basic tax preparation services offered through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (also known as VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs (or TCE). To find help in your area, start your search here.

VITA and TCE work with filers who earn less than $58,000, people with disabilities, limited English speakers and those over 60 years old.

IRS Free File

Many people are eligible to file their taxes for free through the IRS Free File program, which is a public-private partnership between the IRS and tax preparation and filing software companies.

Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less qualify for any IRS Free File partner offers.

Free File With No Income Limits

If you have internet access and are fairly comfortable navigating basic questions about your income taxes, try www.myfreetaxes.com.

It walks you through your return and offers the option of calling someone with a question. The person on the phone won’t complete the return for you, but the expert can help with basic questions.

There is no income cap. age or geographic restrictions.

“It really does guarantee through the software and through the questions it'll ask that you're really getting all the refunds and the tax credits that you qualify for,” Mangum said.

Stimulus Payment Questions

There were two rounds of stimulus payments in 2020. If you didn’t get a payment and you’re eligible, you can claim it as a tax credit.

Your 2020 income tax return also allows you to make a correction if you didn’t get the right amount.

“If you're using an online or electronic system, it's going to compute for you what the credit should have been,” CPA Kedra Flowers said. “It's going to offset what you say you received and then it will make the difference up for you on that return.”

The IRS based stimulus payments on the information it had for you on file. So, if you lost income in 2020 or saw another life change that would qualify you for a stimulus payment, now is the time to let the IRS know.

“It's not just for those who didn't get the stimulus check, but it also applies to other people whose life situation has changed in 2020,” CPA David Epperson said.

Tax Filing Season Start Delayed, But You Can Prepare Now

The IRS pushed back the start of the tax filing season by a couple of weeks. It will begin accepting and processing returns on Feb. 12.

That means, if you’re expecting a refund, you will have to wait a little longer.

Flowers said she recommended setting up direct deposit, preparing your return now and electronically filing so your return gets processed as soon as possible when the IRS accepts returns on Feb. 12.

“Especially with regard to the stimulus payment, if it did not process automatically, then just plan to get in there on Feb. 12, get that return filed so that you can get that credit as soon as possible,” Flowers said.

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