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Free tax help is available

From the Attorney General’s Office

With all the regulations and forms related to tax filing, it’s no wonder that tax preparation is a lucrative business. Some Arkansas consumers may choose to seek tax prep assistance rather than crunching numbers and reviewing documents themselves.

Although paid tax preparation services are available and advertisements for them are prevalent this time of year, many taxpayers are eligible for tax preparation help that is offered at no cost and with no impact to a taxpayers’ refund amount.

“For those who need help preparing and filing their tax returns, there are a number of free programs available,” said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said.

The Internal Revenue Service offers its Free File electronic tax filing program to all taxpayers, either through brand-name software or online fillable forms. Those taxpayers who earned less than $58,000 in adjusted gross income in 2013 are eligible to receive free online filing help. More than a dozen commercial tax software companies have made their online assistance free through the Free File program. Visit www.irs.gov for more information.

The IRS also offers free, in-person tax filing and preparation assistance to qualified individuals through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. Those eligible for help make less than $52,000 a year.

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are also eligible for VITA.

VITA sites are staffed with trained volunteers and are typically in local community centers, libraries, and schools. Consumers may call (800) 906-9887 to find the nearest VITA location, or visit the IRS website.

The TCE program provides free assistance to those who are 60 and older, with most TCE sites being operated through the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide Program. For more information or to find the nearest TCE location, visit http://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/ or call (888) 227-7669.

McDaniel said consumers who choose to pay for help from commercial tax prep providers should keep these tips in mind:

- Shop around, since costs may vary between providers. It is always best to get multiple estimates before choosing a service.

- Make sure to choose a well-qualified, reputable tax preparer, since taxpayers themselves are ultimately responsible for all information provided to the IRS.

- Read and thoroughly review documents before they are filed, and be sure to ask the tax preparer about any entries that may be difficult to understand.

- Ask whether the tax preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which is issued by the IRS.

- Ask if the business is open year-round in case there are follow-up questions regarding a return.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division can provide further information about tax preparation and other consumer issues. Visit www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 482-8982.

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