It's about that time, people.
You've got fewer than 10 weeks left to file your income taxes.
There is lots of help out there waiting for you, and much of it is free. Yes, some of it is income based, but not all of it. Here are some options.
IRS Free File Online. The Internal Revenue Service offers free federal and state online tax prep software to households with an adjusted gross income of $69,000 or less. To find out if your adjusted gross income qualifies (it is not the same as your gross income for the year), you can use the eligibility checker at Benefits.gov.
With Free File, you will do your taxes yourself, but the software will guide you through with prompts and assistance tailored to your return. When you're done, you can file your taxes online for free.
If you don't qualify for Free File, you can still use the IRS's Free File Fillable Forms. You won't get personalized software assistance, but you'll still be able to file online for free. You'll have to know where to put the right numbers, you'll have to do the math yourself, and the forms won't scan for errors the way the Free File software does. Visit IRS.gov/FreeFile.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. The VITA program offers free, in-person tax help to those earning $56,000 or less, people with disabilities and people speaking limited English. The volunteers might be students or recently trained volunteers but all are IRS-certified. State tax prep is also available.
The Northwest Buffalo Community Center, for example, has more than 50 volunteers on site and has a step-by-step process to make sure things go smoothly. One person greets the taxpayer, making sure they have all the documents they need and figuring out how difficult or involved the return is so they can match the taxpayer up with the most qualified preparer. After the volunteer prepares the tax return, someone looks it over to make sure it's accurate. The center files the return electronically and can set up direct deposit so the refunds are returned within 10 days.
In addition to that, the center has representatives from M&T Bank on Saturdays to help people open bank accounts and promote financial literacy. It also has a representative from refugee agency Jericho Road on hand and has the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Program visit the center during tax season to help solve customers' tax problems. The center recruits D'Youville College and Canisius High School students to volunteer.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly. The TCE program is open to all taxpayers, but it has special expertise in tax issues for retired people and those 60 and older. The majority of TCE sites are located in senior centers and libraries, and are administered by AARP. Volunteers are certified by the IRS. To find a TCE site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit AARP.org.
2-1-1. Do you know about 2-1-1? You can dial that phone number at any time, any day of the week, and talk to someone who can link you with community programs and services for any kind of help you need. 2-1-1 is your friend.
It can also direct you to your nearest VITA site, and it sets all the appointments for VITA sites in Chautauqua County and several in Erie County.
Watch for your money. You can check the status of your refund at IRS.gov/refunds.