Free options available for people filing tax returns

Friday, February 17, 2012

Taking advantage of free tax filing opportunities may help keep more of that refund in taxpayers' pockets.

For the tech-savvy, websites exist for filing both federal and state income tax returns for free. People who prefer to sit down with someone have free options, too.

There's even an app for that. The free IRS2Go app allows smart-phone users to watch instructional videos on YouTube, check the status of their refund and request their tax return transcript.

Most people who earn less than $57,000, about 70 percent of Americans, can file their federal returns for free online due to partnerships between name brand software companies and the IRS, said Michael Devine, IRS spokesman.

"Why pay for something you can get for free?" Devine said.

To file federal returns for free, people can visit www.irs.gov and click on "free file" on the right side of the homepage.

For those who want to fill out their state and federal income tax returns together, a list of software providers offering free state and federal income tax returns can be found on The Missouri Department of Revenue's website. By going to www.dor.mo.gov and clicking the "file and pay personal taxes online" link on the right side of the homepage, people can view a list of links to software companies including H&R Block, Intuit, TaxHawk and TaxSlayer.

Of the 140 million tax returns filed last year, Devine said about 80 percent were filed electronically. Along with getting refunds back to taxpayers more quickly, electronic filing also saves the IRS money, he said.

It costs the federal government $3.66 to process a paper tax return, while e-filing costs only 17 cents per return, he said.

"There are very few cases where you have to file by paper," Devine said. A paper return is required to claim the adoption tax credit because there are supporting documents that must be filed with the return that are not available electronically, he said.

For people who want to meet with someone to prepare their taxes but don't want to pay for it, there are free options for those with incomes of less $50,000.

Through the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, East Missouri Action Agency offices in Southeast Missouri provide trained volunteers to help prepare federal and state taxes.

Providing free tax assistance helps lower-income families use more of their tax return, instead of giving $150 or more to a tax preparation company, said Keri McCrorey, community services department head with East Missouri Action Agency.

"A lot of times their tax return is a big chunk of their income each year, so they just get that much more back," she said. People may be counting on that refund check to buy a car, pay off bills or buy things they can't afford throughout the year, McCrorey said.

AARP also offers free tax preparation assistance for those with incomes of less than $50,000. AARP tax aid is available at the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau as well as several libraries and senior centers throughout Southeast Missouri. At the Salvation Army, AARP's trained volunteers will be available Feb. 27, March 5, 12, 19 and 26, and April 2 and 9. All sessions are from 9 a.m. to noon.

With just two three-hour sessions held so far this tax season, 40 people have already been helped by AARP volunteers, said Major Beth Stillwell of the Salvation Army.

"Whatever they receive back, they really use it," Stillwell said. "People in need can use that income to put it toward whatever their needs are at that time."

The volunteers often discover deductions the individual didn't know about, she said.

One in five taxpayers who qualify for it the Earned Income Tax Credit don't claim it, Devine said. The credit was created to offset the burden of Social Security taxes for low- to moderate-income workers.

Last year, 6,070 taxpayers in Cape Girardeau County received almost $13 million in Earned Income Tax Credits, an average of $2,128 each.

This year, taxpayers get an extra two days to file their tax returns. The returns are due April 17 because the typical tax deadline, April 15, falls on a Sunday, and April 16 is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

1111 Linden Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

701 Good Hope Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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