AMES — Because of federal tax law changes in 2018, Iowans’ tax returns are going to look different this year, according to Barb Wollan, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“Form 1040 has changed dramatically. In addition, the amount of tax being withheld from most paychecks was adjusted last winter. For some Iowans the result will be lower refunds,” said Wollan, who specializes in family finance.
In any year, many consumers feel ill-equipped to prepare and file their tax returns on their own. When tax law changes, it is even more important to get well-informed guidance, Wollan said.
In many Iowa communities, Iowans with low and moderate income can turn to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs for free, expert tax preparation. VITA volunteers are trained, tested and certified by the IRS, and VITA sites follow strong procedures to ensure quality.
An advantage of VITA sites is that the tax preparers take special care to explain the tax return to the client, according to Wollan.
“Rather than simply saying, ‘this is the amount of your refund; sign here,’ the volunteer goes over each section of the return with you, pointing out key information and answering your questions. That careful explanation helps ensure the return is accurate, and helps you prepare for next year’s tax season,” Wollan said.
VITA volunteers are equipped to prepare returns with a range of tax issues, including the most common types of income and tax credits. However, volunteers are not allowed to address certain tax issues, including farm and rental income, and some types of small business returns. VITA sites are intended for low and moderate income taxpayers, with some flexibility in income guidelines depending on the situation.
ISU Extension and Outreach is a partner in at least a dozen Iowa VITA sites, whether providing space, managing grant funds, coordinating schedules, or in some cases providing training and technical support to volunteers, Wollan said.
To find a VITA site anywhere in the nation, go to www.irs.gov and search for VITA. This site also will lead you to free tax preparation sites operated by AARP, which are similar to VITA sites. Some tax sites operate on an appointment basis, while other sites offer walk-in service; the listing found on the website will provide the information you need, Wollan explained.
“Even in a year with significant changes to tax law, Iowans who have low or moderate income do not need to spend hundreds of dollars for quality tax preparation. Consider using one of the free options,” Wollan said.
“If you are not able to take advantage of free tax preparation, shop wisely when selecting tax preparation software or a professional tax preparer, and avoid paying fees for refund loans and other non-essential products or services. Your tax refund is a return of your money — keep it for your own use,” Wollan said.