Nobody really looks at tax season with excitement, as tax filing is quite confusing. With retirement, government benefits, healthcare costs, and financial changes, the situation becomes especially complicated for seniors. Thankfully, the IRS offers a service that provides free help to individuals aged 60 years or older: tax counseling for the elderly (TCE). What are the TCE program's requirements?
The IRS runs a similar benefit program, VITA (volunteer income tax assistance), where volunteers help prepare free basic tax returns. The TCE program, established in 1978, was launched after the Tax Reform Act of 1969 emphasized taxpayer education.
TCE and VITA volunteers help to file tax returns
Currently, more than 80,000 VITA and TCE volunteers operate through more than 11,000 sites. Using tax preparation software and laptops, they prepare and electronically file approximately 3.5 million returns per year.
The IRS enters cooperative agreements with eligible organizations to provide tax assistance to older taxpayers. Although the program focuses on tax issues unique to seniors, generally all taxpayers can get help through the TCE program. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) participates in the TCE program through AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.
Community partners include non-profit agencies, faith-based organizations, community centers, and large employers. The IRS provides tax law training, certification, and oversight to these organizations to help them prepare accurate returns.
The TCE service is reliable
The TCE service isn't just free, but also a reliable and trusted source for preparing tax returns. Volunteers are required to pass tax law training that meets IRS standards. This training includes maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of all taxpayers. In addition to requiring volunteers to certify their knowledge of the tax laws, the IRS requires a quality review check for every return prepared at a VITA/TCE site prior to filing.
These volunteers also assist taxpayers in preparing thousands of facilitated self-assistance returns, and specialize in pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.
How the TCE program works
Due to the pandemic, virtual VITA/TCE site options offer tax preparation remotely. A taxpayer can drop off their required tax documents at a partner site or upload them to an encrypted web portal. Then, a volunteer contacts the taxpayer virtually to gather additional information and validate the taxpayer’s identity. After the volunteer prepares the return, another certified volunteer contacts the taxpayer to conduct a quality review and arrange delivery of the tax documents.
How to find a TCE site
VITA and TCE sites are located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations across the country. Most TCE sites are operated by AARP Foundation Tax Aide. To locate the nearest site between January and April, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 1-888-227-7669.