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Plan Well, Retire Well

Is it better to ask for help or prepare your tax returns by yourself?

1040 Tax Form

Every year people gather up all their tax documents, organize them and then think about their options: do their income tax filing themselves, pay someone else do it, or find another option! Let’s explore these options.

Should I pay someone else or file my taxes by myself?

Many people can do their own taxes effectively, especially when using the tax preparation software programs that help complete the forms. However, many people benefit by hiring a professional to do their taxes. This is especially true if your finances are more complex – for example, if you own your own business. Another choice is to explore if you qualify for free help. Overall, it depends on the complexity of the income tax filing as well as your comfort level with tax preparation. Of course, your time and convenience need to be considered too.

I want to do my own tax preparation.

First, look at the free filing online options that are available and see if you qualify for these. Otherwise, you can pay to use the online tax preparation programs. Here are two ways to connect with free software:

  1. IRS Free File provides access to online tax preparation on IRS partner sites to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is $79,000 or less. The site also provides free file fillable forms to all taxpayers. 
  2. United Way provides This is a good possibility for anyone with a simple return. Simple tax situations include W-2 income, Schedule C self-employment, unemployment income, EITC and more. MyFreeTaxes’ Helpline is open daily, 1-866-698-9435.

Also, individual tax filers, regardless of income level, can use IRS Free File to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension. This could be especially useful if you’re waiting to receive a needed tax document.

When you have a question about filing your taxes, check out the website. The information tends to be well-described and organized. A good place to start is How to file your taxes: step by step.

I need free help with tax preparation. 

Depending on your income level, age, and the complexity of your tax filing, free tax return preparation is available through IRS-certified sites such as VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and AARP Tax-Aide programs. Use the search tool on the IRS website to find a site close to you. Typically, services are provided to people:

  • people who generally make $64,000 or less
  • persons with disabilities;
  • limited English-speaking taxpayers; or
  • people over age 60 years old.

Do call ahead or visit their website before going to the tax preparation site so that you can check hours and bring all the needed documents with you!

In addition, MilTax, from the Department of Defense, offers free tax assistance to military service members. MilTax e-filing software is free for service members, eligible family members and survivors. One-on-one help by phone is also available.

Originally posted in 2021; updated February 2024.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

EITC Calculator

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps low to moderate-income workers and families. Claiming the credit can reduce the tax you owe and may also give you a larger refund. Use the online EITC Calculator to see if you qualify.

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Clean Vehicle and Energy Credits

Tax credits can significantly reduce your tax bill. Double-check if you qualify for any tax credits this year, including the clean vehicle and energy credits.

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Meet the Author

Kathy Sweedler provides personal finance online education with Illinois Extension. Kathy’s emphasis is to encourage people to be confident in their financial decisions, and to help them explore new ways of thinking about and managing money. When Kathy is not engaged in Extension work, she is often traveling and piecing together family genealogy. Genealogy is a puzzle, not that different from managing money!

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