Q: Is there a free tax preparation program again this year for seniors?

A: Free tax preparation services are available for seniors aged 60 or older, and to anyone with income of $57,000 or less, regardless of age.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has operated a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for over 50 years. This program is for anyone with income of $57,000 or less, or people with disabilities, older adults, or people with limited English proficiency. In 1978, it also started the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program to provide free tax assistance specific to people who are age 60 and older. In these programs, the IRS certifies volunteers to provide basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing at community locations across the country.

To find a site near you for both the VITA and the TCE programs, go to https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ and enter in your zip code. You can also call 211 to find locations near you.

The IRS manages both the VITA and TCE programs but does not directly provide the services. Instead, they utilize IRS-certified volunteers to provide the tax assistance. They are usually retired individuals working through local non-profit organizations.

All the certified volunteers must take training to certify their knowledge of tax law and undergo quality review checks. It is wonderful to have so many qualified people volunteering their time to ensure that both seniors and lower incomed individuals can receive this type of free tax assistance.

Some of the locations take appointments and others offer walk in services, so be sure to check before you go. Come prepared with your photo identification, social security cards or taxpayer identification numbers, all needed birthdates, a copy of last year’s tax return, all forms W-2, 1098 and 1099, any interest or dividend statements, form 1095-A, bank account information for direct deposit and any other relevant information on income, expenses, and deductions.

It is important to note that they will not provide assistance with Schedule E for rental units or out of state returns.

Not all seniors need to file a tax return. If your only source of income is Social Security, then most likely you are not required to file. For the 2021 tax year, if you are married and file a joint return with a spouse who is also 65 or older, you must file a return if your combined gross income is $27,800 or more. If you are single and age 65 or older, you only need to file if your gross income is $14,250 or higher.

However, if income tax was withheld from your pay, or if you qualify for a refundable credit (such as the earned income credit), you should file a return to get a refund even if you aren’t otherwise required to file a return. If you are unsure if you should file, you can use the Interactive Tax Assistant program through the IRS to check if you need to file. https://www.irs.gov/help/ita/do-i-need-to-file-a-tax-return.

These free tax assistance programs help millions around the country each year. There are many locations in both Ventura and Los Angeles counties, so be sure to take advantage of this service if you qualify and help spread the word to your community.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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