Free tax preparation can help with stimulus checks, refunds

Free assistance is available to help you file your tax return. And it can help you collect missing stimulus checks and other credits for which you may qualify.

The IRS won't start processing returns until Feb. 12 this year. But VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and the IRS' free-file are ready to help people who qualify to file their taxes for free.

"My mom was actually kind of behind on taxes for a few years," said University of Houston accounting student Emmanuel Ramirez. 

While volunteering at VITA, Ramirez got to help his mother.

"She was fairly surprised when we were able to help her for all the years she missed and hadn't filed her taxes.  So like I've said before, it was the biggest sigh of relief I've ever seen," he told us.

RELATED: IRS delays start of 2021 tax filing season to Feb. 12

Houston has 17 VITA sites offering free tax preparation to people over age 55 or earning $66,000 a year or less. 

"We go back sometimes as far as four years, prepping taxes for people who forgot to file, or didn't file for whatever reason.  And even this year we were able to get stimulus checks for people who hadn't filed," said Dr. Cynthia Lloyd, director of VITA at the University of Houston Downtown

Like last year, VITA will work virtually again this year. Taxpayers will be able to talk with them over Zoom calls and upload their documents. 

"I would advise them to take a picture of their document.  Just hover over it with their camera phone.  Most people have a camera phone, or if they don't, they borrowed one," said Lloyd.

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The IRS also offers free-file. Individuals making $72,000 a year or less can choose from one of several tax software programs.  

Filing electronically not only speeds up refunds, it helps ensure you claim credits you qualify for, such as child care, education, or this year's Recovery Rebate Credit, if your stimulus checks weren't the right amount or didn't arrive. 

"Tax software is not going to let you make a mistake. So you should have kept that 1444 form you got from the EIP.  And if not, go back in your bank account and see how much it was so you claim the right amount," explained IRS spokesman Michael Devine.

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President Biden signed two executive orders today: one to increase SNAP food benefits known as food stamps, the other to streamline the process of sending out stimulus checks.

After many taxpayers' stimulus checks and refunds were delayed while the IRS had to work from home last year, we asked Devine what you can expect this year. 

"For last year, as far as I know, we've pretty much opened all the mail and we're processing returns. Another good reason to file electronically, not by paper. For this year, we anticipate a smooth filing season," said Devine.  

AARP will also provide free tax preparation assistance
https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2018/aarp-tax-help-fd.html

Devine says most taxpayer questions can be answered on IRS.gov. You can also call the IRS at 800-829-1040 Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.  Devine says the best times to call are early in the morning or later in the afternoon.