The office of the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue was established in 1862, and in 1913 a personal income tax was authorized by the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The mission of the Internal Revenue Service, according to the U.S. Government Manual, is to collect “the proper amount of tax revenue, at the least cost to the public, by efficiently applying the tax law with integrity and fairness.”
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of finances under King Louis XIV of France and a grand master in the art of revenue enhancement, put things a little more bluntly (the statement may have actually been made by his mentor, Cardinal Mazarin):
“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.”
We can’t guarantee that you won’t feel like a plucked goose when you file your tax return this season, but here are a few suggestions on your options for filing and for obtaining assistance in undertaking this annual onus:
Almost 90 percent of taxpayers now opt for the convenience and speediness of filing their tax returns electronically.
If you are one of the 73 percent of Americans who made $69,000 or less last year, you are eligible to access brand-name tax preparation software or fillable online forms through the IRS Free File service to prepare and file your federal tax return online for free. Even if you made more than that, you are still allowed to use the fillable, electronic versions of the forms.
Tax Preparation Software
A number of commercial software programs are available for purchase to help you prepare your tax return and file it electronically. The IRS does not endorse or approve any of these companies, but if you’re not sure which one to use you can find reviews of the seven best tax software programs of 2020 at The Balance, a personal finance website.
Commercial Tax Preparers
You can pay a tax preparer in your local community to prepare and/or file your taxes online for you. They’re not always identifiable by Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty waving in front of the building, but you can enter your ZIP Code in the IRS Authorized IRS e-file Provider Locator to get a list of the nearest commercial tax preparers in your location who are authorized to file your taxes electronically.
Filing by Mail
Do you prefer the old-fashioned paper tax forms? You can still use them! Tax forms, instructions, and publications can be ordered online at the IRS Forms and Publications by U.S. Mail page, or ordered over the telephone by calling 1-800-829-3676.
For direct access to U.S. federal tax forms and publications, visit the IRS Forms, Instructions, and Publications page. At this site, you can scroll through a list of current IRS publications, select the document you need, and print it. You can also obtain forms and instructions for prior years, and there are some accessible forms and publications to accommodate people who use assistive technology or require accessible formats such as braille or large print.
The IRS website has instructions on where to file paper tax returns once they are filled out.
Need Help Filing?
Please don’t ask librarians tax law questions—they’re not tax law specialists. Instead, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for answers to your tax questions. The following programs also provide free assistance with filling out and filing U.S. income tax forms:
Please note that many resources for obtaining in-person tax assistance may have been suspended because of the coronavirus emergency. Go to the IRS Coronavirus Tax Relief webpage to find the latest updates about IRS services. The filing deadline has been extended to July 15.
VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance)
The IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program offers free tax help to people who earn less than $52,000. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. They can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify, such as Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. VITA sites are usually located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations.
Denton County residents who qualify can get tax help from United Way’s VITA members at selected times and locations during the weeks before April 15 to help them fill out their forms and answer tax related questions. Be sure to bring the materials listed on the United Way VITA page.
TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly)
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older and specializes in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors. Most of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide Program. To locate the nearest TCE site or AARP Tax-Aide site and to find out if you qualify, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669 from January to April. During other months, call 1-800-829-1040 to find the VITA/TCE location and hours nearest your home.
MilTax: Tax Services for the Military
MilTax is a free tax service from Military OneSource and the Department of Defense that provides free tax preparation, free e-filing, and personalized support to address the special circumstances of military life. To help members of the Armed Forces make wise tax decisions, the IRS has prepared a compilation of Tax Information for Members of the Military. Military tax programs are overseen by the Armed Forces Tax Council, which consists of tax program coordinators for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard.
Self-Help Tax Preparation
If you have a simple tax return and just need a little help or don’t have access to a computer, you can visit one of the participating VITA/TCE tax preparation sites, and an IRS-certified volunteer will guide you through the process.
Become a Volunteer and Make a Difference!
You can receive training in tax preparation and make a difference in your community by volunteering with the VITA or TCE programs. If you’re interested, send your contact information using the VITA/TCE Volunteer Sign Up form, and be sure to indicate the city and state where you would like to volunteer. Your information will be forwarded to the sponsoring organizations in your area for further contact.
TAS (Taxpayer Advocate Service)
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS and recommends changes that will prevent the problems in the future. If you’ve had problems with the IRS that you haven’t been able to get resolved, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TSE) may be able to help. Qualifying taxpayers who request assistance receive personalized service from a knowledgeable taxpayer advocate who will listen to their problems, help them understand what needs to be done to resolve the problems, and stay with them every step of the way until those problems are resolved.
Contacting a TAS Advocate
You can find the address and phone number for your local Taxpayer Advocate Service office on the TAS Web site. Other ways to reach a TSE advocate:
- Call the TSE toll-free line at 1-877-777-4778
- Fill out Form 911, Request for Taxpayer Advocate Assistance, which is available by phone at 1-800-829-3676, or online at www.irs.gov
- Ask an IRS employee (in person or over the phone) to complete the form for you
National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Reports to Congress
The leader of TAS, the National Taxpayer Advocate, submits two Reports to Congress each year.
- The Annual Report, delivered each January, summarizes the 20 most serious problems encountered by taxpayers during the previous year, makes legislative and administrative recommendations for resolving those problems, and examines that year’s most frequently litigated issues.
- The Objectives Report identifies the priority issues TAS will focus on during the upcoming fiscal year.
Tax Reform Suggestion Box
To further a dialogue about tax reform, TAS has established a Tax Reform Suggestion Box to receive taxpayers’ suggestions for tax reform. Take this opportunity to let your voice be heard! You can also read some suggestions that other taxpayers have made.
And finally, here’s one last bit of tax advice from an unnamed IRS Auditor (quoted in the April 2005 issue of The Reader’s Digest):
“The trick is to stop thinking of it as your money.”
Article by Bobby Griffith