If you need help with your income taxes, you may be able to find free help. Read this article to learn more about free and low-cost tax help.
Free In-Person Tax Preparation Programs
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a program that offers free tax help from IRS-certified volunteers. VITA services are available to people who generally earn $58,000 per year or less. They also offer free tax help to people with disabilities and people who speak limited English.
Use the VITA site locator to find a site near you. Check with your local site for dates and times you can get help with your taxes.
The AARP Tax-Aide program provides free tax help to people over 50 or people with low to moderate income. You do not need to be an AARP member to get services. Use the Tax-Aide Site Locator to find services near you.
If you have more questions about finding in-person tax help, you can call 2-1-1, a free service that connects people in Michigan to community resources.
Free Online Tax Preparation Programs
The IRS also has free online tools to prepare and file your federal tax return. If your income is $73,000 or less, you may be able to use one of the free online tools on the IRS Free File site to prepare your federal and possibly your state tax returns. These tools will guide you through filling out your tax return. If your income is more than $73,000, you can prepare and file your taxes for free using IRS Free Fillable Forms. This site will allow you to prepare and file your taxes online, but you will need to follow IRS instructions and fill out the forms on your own.
Identity Theft and Unemployment Claims
If you collected unemployment benefits during the year, you will get a tax form from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) called a 1099-G form. During the pandemic, some people have used stolen identities to collect money from unemployment benefits. If someone used your name to collect unemployment benefits, you will get a 1099-G form in the mail even though you did not get unemployment benefits.
The envelope with the 1099-G form will have instructions about what you should do if you were a victim of identity theft. After the UIA investigates the fraud claim, it will send a new 1099 form showing that you did not actually receive benefits. To learn more about this issue, visit the UIA’s page about tax forms and identity theft.
Documents You Need to Do Your Taxes
No matter how you plan on doing your taxes, you will need to gather information first. All of the receipts and documents should cover the tax year, which is last year. For example, in early 2022 you will file taxes for 2021, so you will need documents covering 2021.
Proof of Your Identity and Tax Status
If someone else is doing your taxes, you will need to show them your driver’s license or state ID. If you are married and filing a joint return, both you and your spouse need to be there while the person is doing your taxes. You and your spouse need to sign the return before it's filed.
If you are doing your taxes yourself, you need Social Security numbers or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents.
Most income statements for the previous year are mailed in January. Bring all of the following documents that you have gotten:
- Wages (W-2 or 1099 forms from all jobs worked last year)
- Unemployment (Form 1099-G)
- Pension (Form 1099-R)
- Social Security (Form SSA-1099)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Letter from SSA
- Interest or Dividends (Form 1099-INT or 1099-DIV)
- MDHHS Assistance (MDHHS Annual Statement)
- Child Support (Child Support Annual Statement)
- Gambling or Lottery Winnings (Form W-2G)
- Miscellaneous Income (Form 1099-MISC)
- A copy of last year's tax return, if available
- Any other income documents you may have
Proof of Expenses
To get some credits and deductions on your tax return, you need to show exactly how much you spent on some things in the past year. Bring documents that show the following, if they apply to you:
- A purchase of home or car
- Energy efficient home appliances and improvements (receipts should show Energy Star Rating) such as insulation, windows, furnace, air conditioning system, water heater, refrigerator, clothes washer, dishwasher
- Residential electric bills
- Medical or HMO premiums paid for yourself and your family
- Affordable Care Act Statements (Forms 1095-A, 1095-B, and 1095-C)
- Dependent care expenses, such as daycare or preschool costs
- Student loan interest or cost of tuition and course materials
- If you own your home, bring proof of the taxable value, along with last year's summer and winter property tax bills
- If you rent your home, bring proof of your rent, like your lease or rent receipts, along with your landlord's name and address
- Whether you rent or own your home, bring proof of the amount you spent on heating your home last year.
Information for Direct Deposit
Direct deposit is the fastest, safest way to get your tax refund. To get this you will need:
- The name of your bank or credit union
- Routing number
- Account number
You can find all of this information on a check.
The Accounting Aid Society created a checklist you can print to help you gather the documents you need. For more information about taxes, visit MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org.
Choosing a Trustworthy Tax Preparer
You will be giving the person who does your taxes a lot of personal information, like social security numbers and income information. It is ultimately up to you to make sure the tax return is accurate. If there is a mistake, you will be the one who gets penalized. All of this means that if you decide to have someone else prepare your taxes, it is very important to choose someone who you can trust. The IRS has information available to help you choose carefully.
In general, volunteer preparers working with IRS programs can be trusted, such as the AARP and VITA programs discussed above. Although you can always have a bad experience with any person, all of these volunteers are IRS-certified.
Anyone who charges money to prepare taxes for other people is legally required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS. If you pay someone to do your taxes, make sure they have a PTIN. The person is legally required to sign the tax return with their PTIN. Avoid "ghost" tax preparers. These are people who will charge money to prepare your return but do not sign it. If someone offers to do this it is a warning sign that they are not a trustworthy preparer. Free tax preparation volunteers, such as the ones in VITA and AARP programs listed above are not required to have a PTIN.
To learn more about choosing a tax preparer, read How to Choose a Tax Return Preparer from the IRS.