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Home / Taxes / Is DIY or Free Tax Preparation Right for You?


It seems as if we just finished celebrating Christmas and New Year, and now it is time to start working on our 2014 tax forms. Since most of us cannot be sure we are getting the biggest return possible without help, we want the best tax preparer possible on our side. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when looking for the right tax prep service.

Free Tax Prep Services

There are two major tax preparer groups that do returns for free. They are Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA, and Tax Counseling for the Elderly or TCE. Each serves a set community. The qualifications for VITA are:

  • Individuals with income less than $53,000 or
  • The disabled or
  • The elderly or
  • People with limited spoken English

The TCE program is designed for people over 60, but anyone can get help from TCE workers if they have empty appointment slots. You can look for local VITA and TCE offices by visiting this page of the IRS website.

DIY Software

You can not turn the television on this time of year without seeing an ad for TurboTax or some other tax prep software. All of the advertized software and services can cost you a pretty penny. The IRS maintains a database of free tax prep software for those who made less than $60,000 this past year. You can find that database on the IRS’s Free File webpage.

Shop Around

You would shop for the best price and most qualified contractors right? Tax preparers are a contractor and should be treated the same as a plumber or mechanic. Talk to several. Find out their qualifications, most recent continuing education, observe their personality, be sure they are registered with the IRS and have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Do not forget to check online for reviews and complaints. Great sites for these would be with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Google, and TaxBuzz.

What About An Audit?

You want to know that your tax preparer will be by your side in the event of an audit. While some tax preparers will not go to the actual audit with you, you want one who is going to stand by their work in some way. Be sure to ask this very pointed question before signing up for their services. Additionally, some small tax prep offices are seasonal in nature, closing after April 16th. Be sure to get a phone number where the office can be reached throughout the year.

Tax season can be such a headache. Hopefully, these tips will help you find the right preparer. If you have other tips to include or have had a nightmare experience with a preparer, let us know in the comments section. Who knows, maybe your experience will help someone else.


About the author: Jerry Coffey


Jerry Coffey spent many years in a debt-riddled gray area somewhere between broke and desperately broke. His seemingly endless need for more and more cash led him to payday loans, repossessions, bankruptcy, and depression. After years of the same financial style, he heard a piece of advice that inspired him to find a way to change. The advice: ''The very definition of a fool is someone who continues to do the same things, but expects different results.'' This led him to a much more frugal lifestyle that sees all of his bills paid on time and a growing savings account. Even the seed of a retirement account has begun to sprout.


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