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Finding free tax help

The Baltimore Sun

Tax season is just around the corner.

Are you wondering whether or not to worry about the alternative minimum tax? Are you scratching your head about how to claim your gambling losses? Are you tearing your hair out about what in tarnation the earned income tax credit is and how you might qualify?

Take a deep breath.

There's help available and the best part is, you don't even have to pay for it. The Internal Revenue Service offers help by computer, telephone and in person - whether you need the right forms, publications or just answers on a wide range of questions. The IRS can even help you find free tax preparation services if need be.

Here's a list of where to find help:

Personal computer

Taxpayers should check out 1040 Central on IRS.gov. It's a special section on the Web site that has help, updates and information you might need to prepare and file returns. You can also access forms, instructions and publications, as well as get answers to frequently asked questions. For those still wondering, there's an EITC Assistant to help you find out if you qualify for the earned income tax credit.

If you've already filed your return, you can also use the Web site's "Where's My Refund" tool to find out the status of that payment by entering in a Social Security number, filing status (are you single or married filing jointly?), and amount of refund.

Be sure that you're on the authentic IRS Web site by typing www.IRS.gov into your browser.

Telephone

You can order current and prior year forms, instructions and publications by calling 800-829-3676. You may ask tax questions by calling the toll-free customer service line at 800-829-040 for individual tax issues or 800-829-4933 for business-related tax issues.

TTY/TDD users may call 800-829-4059 to ask tax questions or order forms.

To hear prerecorded messages covering various tax topics or to check on a tax refund, you can call 800-829-4477.

In-person assistance

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites in many communities offer free tax preparation. You can call 800-829-1040 for site locations or call AARP, the largest TCE participant, at 888-227-7669 to find the most convenient location.

The IRS also offers Taxpayer Assistance Centers that can help you face-to-face if you think your tax issues cannot be handled online or by telephone. Representatives can help with inquiries, adjustments, letters, notices and payment plans for those who owe taxes and cannot pay the full amount.

Locations are listed on IRS.gov under the "individuals" tab. Just click the link to Contact My Local Office.

If you believe you have a problem that has not been resolved through normal channels, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS, at 877-777-4778 or TTY/TTD 800-829-4059.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@ baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6151.

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