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Whether you are in one of the military services or are a veteran living in the Lehigh Valley, there are free tax services to assist you … of the online and face-to-tace variety. In no particular order, some of the options are listed below.
Option #1 — Military OneSource Assistance
Military OneSource Tax Assistance, which is primarily for those still serving but there are limited exceptions. The service allows you to complete and electronically file your federal and up to three state tax returns or filings.
Who is eligible?
- All active-duty service members
- Military Service Reservists and National Guardsmen (regardless of activation status)
- Coast Guard Reservists activated as part of the Department of the Navy under Title 10 authority
- Spouses and dependent children who are authorized in Defense Enrollment and Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS)
- A family member who is taking care of the affairs of an eligible service member when the servicemember is deployed
- A severely injured service member of one of the services noted above, a designated family member of a severely injured servicemember who is incapable of handling his or her own affairs, or medically retired individuals. Eligibility extends until 180 days past the End of Tour of Service (ETS), retirement date or discharge date.
- Other veterans who are within the 180 day window since discharge.
How is the service provided? It is primarily an online service initiated through creating an account on Military OneSource. This then allows you to link to H&R Block, which provides assistance free of charge. Do not contact H&R directly or walk into one of their local offices, for you will then be charged for the service. Again, this is an online service. If you need to speak to someone for assistance, Military OneSource provides its own tax consultants to answer questions. This is typically is done by appointment and only by telephone.
When is it available? It is a year-round service.
How do I start? For more information on how the tax consultant can help you, how to apply online, what documents will be needed, and how to obtain your W-2, click here. The telephone number to get to the Military OneSource tax consultant is Tel: 1-800-342-9647. The IRS site for the VITA and TCE programs is also useful for identifying what to bring.
Option #2 — VITA Assistance
The local IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program generally offers free tax help to people below a certain income level. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. They can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.
Who is eligible? Those with an income of $54,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own taxes.
How is the service provided? This is an onsite, face-to-face service done by appointment at various locations close to the Lehigh Valley. With the Community Action Center of the Lehigh Valley now out of the picture, no known agency exists within the valley providing the service. See “How do I start?”. The program allows for itemized tax deduction services for those who own a home and also a more basic tax return service for all others. It will not assist those who are filing as a business.
No direct online service is provided, but some locations may now offer taxpayers the option to prepare their own basic federal and state tax return for free using Web-based tax preparation software with an IRS-certified volunteer to help guide them through the process. This option is only available at locations that list “Self-Prep” in the site listing.
When is it available? Typically January through 15 April 2018
How do I start? To find locations and what to bring, click here. Recommend you also consult the Military OneSource tax preparation webpage in Option #1 for needed documents.
For other VITA sites potentially closer to you but not provided by the CACLV, click here. As of publication, the locator does not seem to be fully developed and one must call to distinguish between a VITA and a TCE site. You should note not all locations require scheduled appointments as CACLV does.
Option #3 — TCE Assistance
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help for those with middle or low income. Priority in assistance is to people who are 60 years of age and older. This program specializes in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
Who is eligible? Those with middle or low income. Program is available to others but primarily designed to assist those 60 years of age and older. It will not assist those filing as a business.
How is the service provided? This is an onsite, face-to-face service. The local AARP TaxAide program discussed here is the best known provider of this service in the Lehigh Valley, but there may be others. Walk-in service is the primary means. However, a few locations require scheduling an appointment.
Please note this quote from one of their guidance documents: “AARP Tax-Aide volunteers are NOT certified to do returns for active military (Income related to Combat Zone, Incentive Pay, Re-Enlistment, Education Repayment, Recruitment Bonus; Moving expenses or any foreign pay). A retired veteran living in the U.S. with a standard military pension is within our certification scope with pension treated the same as any other federal or civilian retiree.”
When is it available? Typically, 1 February to 15 April 2018
How do I start? See the “How do I start?” sections of Options #1 and #2 for important documents you might need. Do not call the locations unless a phone number is provided. To find a TaxAide site near you, call Tel: 1-888-AARPNOW (1-888-227-7669) after January 15th or use the AARP TaxAide locator site (click here). This locator is currently better developed than the IRS’s and is useful for finding other sites closer to you.
Option #4 — Commercial Software from IRS
freefile is an IRS website which provides a host of free commercial software (Turbotax, H&R Block, Tax Simple, for example) subject to certain restrictions.
Who is eligible? Generally, anyone. Age, income, state of residence, and adjusted gross income affect which products you can use. However, the service is extended to those with an Annual Gross Income over $66,000.
How is the service provided? The IRS arranges with commercial software vendors to provide free versions of their products. It is a strictly an online service and requires one to prepare one’s own income tax statement.
When is it available? 31 January 2018
How do I start? Click here. You may want to refer to the “How do I start?” sections of Options #1 and #2 for documents needed or you should consider ahead of time. However, the tax software normally leads you through the paces.
Communications with Military OneSource, CACLV and AARP
Last Updated: 22 February 2018 (income limits,dates)