Today is Harry Houdini's birthday.
If the master escape artist had been able to free himself from the restraints of mortality, he would have been 137 today.
But even the few among us who are as slippery as Harry was still can't escape taxes.
We can, however, do the next best thing -- get free tax help.
But I'm just one person who has a job and a hubby who, while being very patient during tax season, still deserves some of my attention even as the April filing deadline nears.
So here are some other no or low-cost tax help suggestions.
There is, of course, the IRS toll-free telephone line.
Yes, I know, IRS phone assistance has caught a lot of well-deserved flack over the years. But if you have a relatively simple tax inquiry or questions about your specific filing situation, calling 1-800-829-1040 could be useful.
Just be prepared to wait. Despite the complaints, the toll-free phone line is jammed during tax season.
Seeking IRS help online probably is more effective, especially this time of year.
The agency's website, IRS.gov, has lots of good information.
And there's also the cool IRS Tax Map where you can search 5,000 or so Internal Revenue Code related topics.
Most of the major tax software firms offer forums and access to experts via their websites.
Want a more personal touch? You've got options.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
The VITA program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and below) taxpayers.
Certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations receive training to help prepare basic tax returns at sites across the country. VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other public locations. Most VITA sites also offer free electronic filing.
You can get an idea of VITA locations at the program's partial online directory listing. If you don't see your location there, call 1-800-906-9887.
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
The TCE program provides free tax help to filers aged 60 and older.
Trained volunteers from nonprofit organizations provide free tax counseling and basic income tax return preparation for senior citizens. Volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
As part of the IRS-sponsored TCE Program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program at more than 7,000 sites nationwide during the filing season.
For more information on TCE, call 1-800-906-9887 (yes, the same as VITA). To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669.
Military personnel tax assistance
The military has its own VITA program. It's overseen by the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC), which consists of tax program coordinators for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Members of the armed forces and their families worldwide receive free tax preparation assistance at VITA offices within their installations. Tax volunteers there are trained to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) guidelines.
As with the civilian VITA sites, most service members can file their tax returns electronically at their tax centers, as well as receive direct deposit of their refunds.
IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs)
If you don't trust a faceless voice at the IRS hotline, see the agency's help in person at one of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) located across the United States.
Although the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TITGA) has raised questions about where some TACs are located, if one is near you, check it out.
Many TACs will be open for extended hours through April 9.
And this Saturday, March 26, select TACs will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time to provide services such as tax return preparation, account inquiries and payment agreements.
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC)
Many communities offer Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs). They are not part of the IRS; rather, they are run by nonprofits or law, business or accounting schools. However, LITCs receive partial funding from the IRS via a special grant program.
LITC volunteers do not help with routine tax filing. Instead, they offer assistance to low-income taxpayers who are having problems with the IRS, such as audits, appeals and collection disputes.
The LITC tax locator map can help you find a clinic in your area.
Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS)
If you are find a tax problem is causing you serious financial difficulty and you haven't been able to resolve the issue through normal IRS channels, you might be eligible for help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).
The Taxpayer Advocate Toolkit offers information for individuals and businesses that need help in resolving a tax problem. You also can call the national office at 1-877-777-4778 or find your nearest taxpayer advocate office using TAS' online locator map.
Check with your state tax collector
Most states that collect income tax, and most states do collect income tax, follow the IRS filing schedule when it comes to sending in those returns.
So if you're also now looking for state tax help, start with your state's department of revenue. Those official state tax office websites have gotten quite detailed in recent years.
And the tax software company online forums also sometimes answer state-specific filing questions.
Look for local help
You also should check with your local community service organizations, churches and bar association and accounting association chapters in your town. Many of these groups offer tax assistance throughout filing season.
Good luck, in both filing your returns and finding good free or low-cost help to do so.
- Tax considerations of blind filers
- Viva VITA!
- National Taxpayer Advocate supports tax reform
- UBS deal sends wrong message (LITC section)
- IRS open house (2010)
- 'Super Saturday' to offer free IRS help (2009)
- Improve the IRS!
- State tax departments
Want to tell your friends about this blog post? Check out the buttons -- Tweet This, Reblog, Like, Digg This and more -- at the bottom of this post. Or you can use the Share This icon to spread the word via e-mail and online avenues. Thanks!