A woman in a large beige trench coat sits at a table writing on a clipboard.
If you're looking for free tax help ahead of Tax Day 2022, we have advice. (Sora Shimazaki/Pexels)

How to Find Free Tax Help Near You — and Prepare Everything You Need for Your Appointment

How to Find Free Tax Help Near You — and Prepare Everything You Need for Your Appointment

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This report contains a correction.

This year, Tax Day is Monday, April 18. (That's right: Unlike the last two years, there is no automatic extension on the 2022 deadline to file your taxes.)

But if Tax Day snuck up on you, a great option might be to use the help of a free tax clinic to file your taxes. Skip to where to find free tax help near you.

KQED reached out to the UC Hastings Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, UpValley Family Centers and the Mission Economic Development Agency to ask what information they wish their clients knew before using their services — and what misinformation is out there about filing this year. Keep reading for their advice.

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Where to find free tax help near you

Across the Bay Area, dozens of nonprofit organizations and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are offering you free tax filing services, both in person and virtually — often right up until April 18.

Many of these sites offer assistance in Spanish, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and other languages. Some also offer unscheduled walk-in appointments.

Find free tax help near you online:

Find free tax help near you by phone:

  • Call 211
  • Text "taxes" to 211-211 (a text help line from United Ways of California and 211) to find a free tax filing site near you.

What to have ready before filing

The last two weeks before Tax Day tend to be the busiest period for free tax clinics, with many seeing up to hundreds of people each week.

For this reason, the tax aid groups KQED spoke to stressed just how important it is for filers to have everything ready ahead of time — to make the process as easy and fast as possible. So, a few days before your filing appointment, start getting all your documents together in a "filing kit."

Make sure your kit includes the following:

1. Your photo ID

2. Your Social Security card, or a letter from the Social Security Administration that verifies your SSN

  • If you do not have a Social Security number, bring your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) provided by the IRS instead. An ITIN is a number created by the IRS for taxpayers who don’t have a Social Security number due to their immigration status.
  • Get more information on how to request an ITIN.

3. The Social Security numbers and/or ITIN numbers of everyone you'll be claiming in your taxes this year

4. Income statement forms from your employer such as a W-2, 1099-MISC, 1099-NEC or 1099-K

  • If you claimed unemployment benefits in 2021, EDD also should have sent you a 1099-G form.

5. Proof of health care coverage

  • This will be a 1095-B form, or 1095-A form if you're insured through Covered California.
  • If you didn't receive a 1095-B or 1095-A in the mail, and you were enrolled in a health care plan in 2021, contact your care provider or access your online health care account to have it ready before you visit a tax clinic.

6. Letters 6419 and 6475, if you received them from the IRS

  • You should have gotten a Letter 6419 in the mail if you qualified for the Advance Child Tax Credit — cash that the federal government sent to the families of nearly 60 million children. Families should have receive the funds by direct deposit or check.

Because the amount of cash a family qualified for varied by its income and the number of children, Letter 6419 confirms how much one family received.

Letter 6475, on the other hand, confirms that you received the third stimulus check that the federal government started sending out in March 2021.

Amy Spivey, director of the UC Hastings Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, has already met several people who forgot to bring these forms to their filing appointments. "Without these forms, it's hard for us to know what to report as advance payments on the return," she said.

"If it's reported incorrectly, the IRS is going to make adjustments to your refund," Spivey said, adding that both the Advance Child Tax Credit and the third stimulus checks are part of your total 2021 tax refund. By being clear on how much of your refund you already received, you're making sure you don't accidentally "double count" on your return.

What if you didn't receive either Letter 6419 or 6475? You can check your IRS online account to confirm whether you qualified for these benefits, and print these forms out.

A person's hands touching money in a wallet
Even if you're worried about filing your taxes last-minute, don't put it off. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)

Things to keep in mind when talking to a tax filer

Once you have your filing kit assembled, make sure you share everything with your tax filer. And even if you misplaced a form, let your filer know which benefits you received in 2021.

This includes the second Golden State Stimulus payment that the state government sent to most Californians at the end of last year. If you did not receive a second Golden State Stimulus payment, but believe you qualify, you can confirm your eligibility (and how much you could receive) on the California Franchise Tax Board website.

Something that several community tax clinics noticed this year is that several clients come in believing they qualify for certain tax credits, when that may not in fact be the case. For example, some clients think that everyone regardless of income is eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit.

But in reality, this cash rebate "is a function of how much income you receive and how many dependents you claim in your tax return," said UC Hastings's Spivey — and it's only available for families that made less than $57,414.

California has its own state version of this rebate, called the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC). But there are income restrictions on who can receive that, too: Only families that made up to $30,000 a year are eligible.

If you don't have proof of health care coverage (like a 1095-B or 1095-A form) because you don't have health insurance, you should make that very clear to your tax preparer.

You may very likely be penalized by the state of California for being uninsured. You can use the penalty estimator tool on the California Franchise Tax Board website to calculate how big this penalty could be for you.

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Running out of time and thinking about not filing this year?

Getting all your documents together and finding a place that can help you file your taxes can sometimes be overwhelming — especially if you already owe payments to the IRS from previous years. And Spivey understands this could dissuade people from filing when they have little time left before April 18.

"A lot of clients we see [don't] file — they were afraid, they saw they owed money and they avoided filing," she said. "But clients should really file on time, regardless of whether or not they can pay."

Missing the April 18 deadline and letting another year pass without paying could have much bigger consequences later on, Spivey noted — and filing on time "is going to save you in additional penalties for maybe late filing."

Filing by April 18 "will ensure if, for example you're self-employed, that you're going to get proper credit with the Social Security Administration," she said.

What if you're unable to pay everything you owe up front when you file? You can set up a payment plan, Spivey explained. You can do this at the time you file, or later on the IRS website.

KQED's Mary Franklin Harvin contributed to this story.

April 12: The original version of this report contained an error, and has been updated to reflect that Tax Day 2022 is April 18.

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