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How to get free tax help, in person & online

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 6:00 am

By Stacey Goddard

This will probably sound weird: one of my favorite times of the year to work in the library is during tax season. We get a lot of questions about tax forms, instruction booklets, and where to get help during that period between late December, when questions start, through the middle of April when the filing deadline arrives.

It’s great to answer those questions and know, in some small way, that we’re helping people get some of their hard-earned money back in their pockets.

I also love that, before the pandemic, the Library District was able to host free AARP Tax Aide sessions at four of our libraries. Those were some very busy days, especially at Spokane Valley Library, but it was always wonderful to see how happy and relieved people looked as they left the library with their completed tax return.

This year, tax season looks different than what we have been used to. If you’re among the many people who are stressed out about their taxes and worried how you will get your taxes completed and filed, I have good news for you.

Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic and social distancing restrictions, help is still available for filing your tax return, both in person and online.

IN PERSON WITH AARP TAX AIDE*

From February 12 through April 9, in-person assistance will be available from AARP Tax Aide volunteers at one location in Spokane County: The Northeast Community Center (4001 N Cook St, Spokane). An appointment is required, so you’ll need to call 509.353.4851 to set one up. Please be aware that spots fill up quickly and may already be filled when you call. 

* It has come to our attention that the AARP website (aarp.org) mistakenly lists Argonne Library as a location for tax preparation help. This is incorrect, and we apologize for any inconvenience.

ONLINE OPTIONS

If you aren’t able to get an in-person appointment, or if you would prefer to complete and file your taxes from home, you can e-file with the IRS and its partners or with the service provided by Spokane County United Way.

IRS website

The IRS website (https://www.irs.gov; see image 1) is your one-stop center for everything tax-related. You can browse tax topics, such as how to get your tax record or check on your refund status, and locate specific tax forms and instructions.

Image 1: IRS website (www.irs.gov)
Image 1: IRS website (www.irs.gov)

If you want to file your taxes online, visit the IRS Free File web page (see image 2) and pick the option based on your income that works for you.

Image 2: File Your Taxes for Free (www.irs.gov)
Image 2: File Your Taxes for Free (www.irs.gov)

On the IRS Free File web page, you’ll find a list of questions about the service that I encourage you to review before you start the process. Topics include the benefits of using the Free File program and the safety of your personal information.

A common question is: What does “free” mean? In this case, it means that if you qualify for Free File, you will not be charged for the preparation of e-filing forms for your federal tax return. Please note that if you need to file a state income tax return, state tax preparation fees may apply. Those fees will be clearly stated on the individual Free File program page.

When you’re ready to start, you’ll be asked to pick a Free File option based on your income (see image 3). If your adjusted gross income is below $72,000, you’ll want to click the “Choose an IRS Free File Offer” button to continue to the next step. If your income is above $72,000, starting February 12, you’ll be able to access Free File Fillable Forms, or you can prepare the paper tax forms for filing through the mail.

Image 3: Choose Free File Based on Income (www.irs.gov)
Image 3: Choose Free File Based on Income (www.irs.gov)

Next, you’ll have the option to either browse all the online offers available, or use the online lookup tool to find the best offers for you.

Browsing all the options seemed a bit overwhelming to me, so I chose the Lookup Tool, which helped me step through the process.

Image 4: Free File Online Options (www.irs.gov)
Image 4: IRS Free File Online Options (www.irs.gov)

The Lookup Tool (see image 5) asks some basic questions, such as your age, state of residence, and filing status. Then it walks you through estimating your adjusted gross income based on your earnings and deductions, such as retirement contributions you made or student loan interest you paid during the year. It also helps you determine if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Image 5: Lookup Tool (www.irs.gov)
Image 5: Lookup Tool (www.irs.gov)

Once you’ve answered the questions, you’ll get a list of offers for e-filing to choose from. You can see below that I qualified for two offers based on my answers.

Each offer provides a brief summary of why you may be eligible for it (age and income, in my case) and also includes brief information on state filing details.

Image 7: Lookup Results (www.irs.gov)
Image 6: Lookup Results (www.irs.gov)

You can click the “View This Offer” button (see image 6) to get more details, including any potential costs. I decided to view the first offer, which you can see below. The red box shows the costs if I don’t qualify for free e-filing or if I need to file a state return that isn’t offered for free.

When you find an offer for online tax filing that you like, click the “Get Started” button (see image 7) to begin filing your return.

Image 7: IRS Partner for Online Filing (www.fileyourtaxes.com)
Image 7: IRS Partner for Online Filing (www.fileyourtaxes.com)

The first step will be setting up an account with your email address. You’ll also need to create a user name and password, and then follow the prompts to complete the process.

United Way website: MyFreeTaxes.com

Spokane County United Way offers another option for online help with filing your taxes: MyFreeTaxes.com.

United Way has helped people file their taxes for over a decade. It’s easy to use and safe (H & R Block provides the secure software), and it’s free for all simple returns. You can visit the Spokane County United Way Free Tax Preparation web page to learn more, including frequently asked questions.

When you’re ready to get started at MyFreeTaxes.com, you will see some options (see image 8).

Image 8: My Free Taxes Website from Spokane County United Way (www.myfreetaxes.com)
Image 8: My Free Taxes Website from Spokane County United Way (www.myfreetaxes.com)

If you select “By Myself” (left-hand option) as the way you want to file, then you are asked to provide your name, zip code, and email address (see image 9).

Image 9: File by Myself Option (www.myfreetaxes.com)
Image 9: File by Myself Option (www.myfreetaxes.com)

My Free Taxes will then send you an email with some information and a link to the software—a step required by their partnership with the IRS. Once you get the email with the link, you can click on it to open the software in a browser and then follow the prompts on screen.

If you prefer assistance in preparing and filing your taxes, you can select “With Assistance” (middle option) and click “Next Step” on the My Free Taxes website. You are asked for the year you’re filing a return (you can get help with the three most recent tax years), and after that, you are asked three questions about your income earnings (see image 10).

Image 10: Filing with Assistance Questions (www.myfreetaxes.com)
Image 10: Filing with Assistance Questions (www.myfreetaxes.com)

Depending on your responses, you’ll either be told you qualify to have your taxes prepared for you for free, or you’ll be directed to select file “By Myself” if you don’t qualify for free assistance.

Lastly, if you select “I’m Not Sure” (right-hand option) on the My Free Taxes website, you’ll be directed to call 866.698.9435 (toll free) to talk with a specialist who can match you up with the help you need (see image 11).

Image 11: Not Sure Option Web Page (www.myfreetaxes.com)
Image 11: Not Sure Option Web Page (www.myfreetaxes.com)

GETTING EVERYTHING READY

Whichever option you choose, you’ll want to gather your tax documents and information prior to starting your tax preparation.

Gather the following before you start your tax preparation:

  • Your W-2 forms
  • Any other documentation of your earnings received in 2020, such as 1099 forms
  • Any unemployment compensation
  • Any Social Security benefits
  • Your Social Security number and the SSNs for any dependents you are claiming and your spouse if you’re filing jointly
  • Any forms pertaining to self-employment if you’ve earned money with a side gig that doesn’t send you a 1099 form
  • You prior year’s tax return for reference

If you’re making an in-person appointment for tax help, either with Tax Aide or another tax preparer, you’ll need to bring your photo ID as well.

PRINTED TAX FORMS

If you’d prefer to mail in printed tax forms, the library can help with that as well. Simply use our Mobile Printing service to print the forms you need from the IRS website, and use our Curbside Pickup service to retrieve the forms you need.

If you don’t have a smart phone or way to access the Mobile Printing app, you can call us at 509.893.8400 for help getting your forms printed.

The library’s weekly printing limit for customers is 80 pages per week, and some tax instruction booklets are over 100 pages. We have a solution! You can call 1.800.TAX.FORM (1.800.829.3676) to request all the forms and booklets you need, and they will send them to you.

Now that you know some of your options for completing your taxes, I hope the prospect of tackling them is less stressful. If you still have questions or need help getting started, please contact us at 509.893.8400.

Stacey Goddard

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