Filing taxes can be overwhelming.
Because of this, since the 1970s, the IRS has funded programs like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program to help low-to-middle-income households as well as households aged 60 and over with their taxes. And for decades, nonprofits and universities like AARP and Saint Joseph’s University have participated in these programs to assist taxpayers in the area.
Both VITA and TCE have the highest accuracy in tax preparation services in the country – and many people end up saving money by using these services. The average person preparing their taxes through VITA saves $ 273. These services can also help customers access money owed, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which qualified families can earn up to $ 6,318.
Like everything else in the age of Covid-19, the pandemic has had a critical impact on the way these programs work. Compared to the previous year, fewer personal VITA and TCE locations are open and fully utilized.
However, there are more ways to participate in these programs than ever before.
Here’s what you need to know about filing your taxes cheaply
1. Find out if you qualify
First and foremost, you need to determine if you qualify for the services. If you earn $ 57,000 or less, have a disability, or speak limited English, you are likely eligible to participate in the services offered by VITA. That said, if you own and operate your own business or own a rental property, you are not eligible.
If you are 60 or older, regardless of your job or income, you can qualify for tax preparation through TCE.
While some individuals will qualify for both programs, volunteers working with TCE specialize in answering questions about pensions and questions related to retirement that only apply to seniors. So, if you qualify for both programs but could benefit from this guide, look for participating TCE programs through VITA.
For both programs, participants must be either US citizens or permanent residents.
2. Make a plan for filing
In previous years, the only way to get free tax preparation was to take your tax documents to a VITA or TCE location and then work with a volunteer in a one-on-one interview. Each site performs the process differently, but there are now four ways to submit to a VITA or TCE volunteer. United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey is one of the participating VITA partners, offering all four. Here are your options:
- Virtual: This option allows you to schedule a time with a volunteer who will guide you through the sign up process, either through a video or a phone call. No preparation is required for this option.
- Virtual Submission: If you go this route, submit your tax documents online and a volunteer will call you as soon as your submission is ready for review and DocuSign. This process is faster than the virtual option.
- Drop-off On Site: As with the previous option, you’ll submit your tax documents before speaking to a volunteer, except for bringing their materials to a VITA or TCE admission location. Here you will be given a date to return to this location for a personal review and signature. Depending on your location, you may also need to set a time when your documents will be dropped off at an entry point.
- Traditional: Just like before the pandemic, bring your tax documents to a VITA or TCE location and a volunteer will guide you through the registration process in person. Most locations that offer this option require you to plan a meeting in advance.
3. Find out more about VITA and TCE locations and make an appointment
All of the VITA and TCE websites are listed here on the IRS website. There are currently about two dozen locations listed across the Philadelphia area, including several in New Jersey. Each listing includes the address of the location, a note on which programs they support, information on how to submit to them, and schedule an appointment if needed. If you have any questions, please contact the VITA or TCE website using the telephone number or email address provided.
If you are looking for a TCE site specifically, be aware that most TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. Use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669 to find the AARP TCE Tax Aide site closest to you.
4. Collect and prepare the right materials
Volunteers can’t help you if you don’t upload, hand in, or bring the correct materials. You will need:
- Proof of identification.
- Social security cards or an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) letter for you, your spouse and your relatives. If you apply for an ITIN, you must provide proof of foreign status.
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and your relatives in the tax return.
- Payrolls (Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Other) from all employers
- Interest and dividend statements from banks (Form 1099).
- Health Insurance Exemption Certificate, if received.
- A copy of last year’s federal and state returns, if available.
- Proof of forwarding the bank account and account numbers for direct deposit, e.g. B. a blank check.
- Total amount paid to the daycare provider and the day care worker tax identification number, e.g. B. the social security number or the employer identification number of the company.
- Forms 1095-A, B, and C, Health Insurance Statements.
- Copies of proof of income from the IRS and, if applicable, state.
To file taxes electronically on a joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms. If you need to set up a bank account, be sure to visit the FDIC website for information on where to open an account online.
When shipping these materials, make sure that not every address of a VITA or TCE location matches the address to which the materials are to be delivered. For example, at Saint Joseph’s University, copies of these materials should be sent to their mailbox in Merion Station – not their Philadelphia address on City Avenue. Make sure you send it to the right place.
Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to reviewing, signing, and submitting your tax forms, knowing that you’ve saved at least a few hundred dollars in the process.
The Citizen is one of 20 news organizations that produce Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty alleviation and the city’s pursuit of economic justice. Follow the project on Twitter @BrokeInPhilly.
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