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How to File Your Taxes for Free in New York City

The deadline for filing your 2022 tax returns is April 18. Here’s what you need to know about how to get help — for free — with the paperwork.

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Individuals and joint-filers with income below a certain threshold can get free tax prep help at the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch, Feb. 20, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

If you have more questions about filing taxes this year that aren’t covered by this guide, let us know at ask@thecity.nyc.

Tax season can be daunting, especially if you prepare your paperwork on your own. 

When should you file? What happens if you make a mistake on the form? What determines the size of your refund — or payment? Each tax year can bring new sets of questions, and getting help answering them can be expensive. 

But filing taxes need not cost you a lot of money — or any money. 

In New York City, low- and middle-income taxpayers qualify to get their taxes prepared and filed for free. The services are offered through many libraries, community centers and local nonprofits that are certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide New Yorkers low-cost or free tax services.

If you need help with your tax returns, you can get it without breaking the bank. Here’s a guide from THE CITY detailing everything you need to know about filing your 2022 taxes:

When is the deadline?

You’ll have to file your tax return on or before April 18. If you apply for an extension, your deadline is October 16. Here’s the form you can use to apply for an extension.

Do I need to file?

Whether or not you need to file depends on the amount of income you made in 2022, your filing status and your age — and possibly a combination of these factors.

For 2022, if you made less than $12,950 as an individual, you might not have to file. You don’t have to file if you were over 65 years of age and made $14,700 or less; or if you were under 65 years of age and made $12,950 or less.

However, if you receive Social Security, retirement benefits, some other forms of supplemental income, or if you meet a few other conditions, you’ll have to file. And generally, the IRS won’t give you refunds without a tax return.

If you need more information, read “Who Must File” and “Who Should File” as explained by the IRS. You can also use this IRS tool and answer a few questions to find out for certain. 

How should I prepare?

Know that you do not need to pay to get your returns filed, especially if your income is at or below a certain threshold. Commercial tax prep providers and software can cost from $30 to over $100 to prepare and file federal and state returns. Besides, predatory services have been known to advance loans based on an anticipated refund amount, with beefed-up interest rates based on a large refund — but the refund never materializes. 

“A lot of unscrupulous preparers are offering what they call the rapid refund, but I call the rapid rip-off,” said Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor, CEO of Urban Upbound, a nonprofit group and IRS-certified tax preparer. “That’s another scam that retail preparers have used to take advantage of New Yorkers.”

Once you’ve considered your tax prep options, the next thing to do is: Start early.

Zac Hall, senior vice president of programs at Food Bank for New York City, which also offers free tax-prep services to New Yorkers, estimates that the organization has already helped 4,000 New Yorkers with tax preparation this year. 

“It’s really important to make sure that folks are planning ahead, getting their documentation aligned and scheduling their time to come and make their appointment,” Hall said. 

What should I keep an eye on?

A few things changed in 2022 that might affect the size of your refund or payment, according to the IRS. One, there were no federal stimulus payments last year. Two, some tax credits are back to their pre-pandemic levels — so you might get a smaller refund through some claims like the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

  • If you get a Child Tax Credit, it’ll be $2,000 for every child who was under 17 at the end of 2022.
  • If you are eligible and claim an Earned Income Tax Credit and have no dependents, you’ll get $560. Read more about the Earned Income Tax Credit, which credited eligible taxpayers an average of $2,043 last year.

Where can I get free tax preparation help in New York City?

Several places. The IRS and New York state and New York City governments all offer some form of free tax preparation and filing help. Each comes with different eligibility requirements. 

Also, nonprofit organizations like Urban Upbound, Food Bank for New York City and places like local libraries are staffed by IRS-certified volunteers to help low- to middle-income taxpayers file returns. Let’s break those down:

In-person help for federal returns

If you want in-person help, visit your local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and/or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) centers. These programs are run by volunteers certified by the IRS and generally work with people making $60,000 or less, those with disabilities and/or with limited English-speaking proficiency. 

Locate your nearest VITA/TCE site here or call 800-906-9887. A lot of these centers are also operated by the American Association of Retired People (AARP) Tax-Aide program and offer tax help at AARP sites. Find the AARP Tax-Aide site nearest to you here.

VITA sites can help you with most forms, including W-2s and 1099s, as well as  Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment and Social Security benefits, pension and education credits. See the complete list of forms to bring with you.

You’ll need to make an appointment and bring the following documents if you want your taxes prepared through a VITA center:

  • Government-issued photo identification for you and your spouse, if you are married. Both of you will have to be present if you’re filing jointly.
  • Social Security cards or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number documents for you, your spouse, and/or your dependents.
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse, and/or your dependents. 
  • A copy of last year’s tax return.
  • Applicable forms such as W-2, 1099 or 1095-A, B or C.
  • Information for other income.
  • Information for all deductions, including charitable contributions.
  • Total paid to day-care provider and their tax ID number. 
  • For direct deposit of refund, proof of account and bank’s routing number. 
  • For prior year returns, copies of income transcripts from IRS (and state, if applicable).

There are a number of ways you can work with VITA/TCE centers in NYC:

  • Virtual: You can get virtual help completing and filing your return over a 60-90 minute call.
  • Assisted self-prep: You complete your tax return on your own, with someone available to help over a call or email, if you need it.
  • Drop-off: You can drop off your documents at a VITA site and pick up a completed return.
  • In-person: You can get your taxes prepared in person.

If you’re visiting in person, you’ll need to bring ID, proof of income and banking information. Find more details on those forms here and find the site nearest to you here

Online filing for federal returns

The IRS website is a good place to start for electronic filing. Taxpayers who made less than $73,000 in 2022 can electronically file all federal returns and some state returns for free through the Free File Alliance, a public-private partnership between the IRS and select tax-preparation companies. 

There are two kinds of ways you can use the IRS Free File service:

  • You can use Guided Tax Preparation, which takes all the work out of your hands, from the calculations to the filing. You’ll need the forms that report your income, say from your full-time job (W-2s), or income that’s not a wage or salary (1099s) and any other special forms issued for your employment; information about your spouse and dependents, if any; any income adjustments; and your income after applying those adjustments. You’ll fill in your information and then choose from the service providers i.e. tax prep companies. Take a look at the providers here
  • Or, you can use Free File Fillable Forms if you made more than $73,000 last year, have some familiarity with IRS language — such as the types of forms you’ll need and claims you can make — required for your return. This option offers a free way to sign and electronically file your federal tax returns only, not state returns. Be aware: you’ll have to do most calculations on your own since this program offers fewer step-by-step instructions than Guided Tax Preparation. 

State returns

New York State also offers free tax prep and filing for both federal and state returns through the Free File Alliance if:

  • You made $41,000 or less in 2022, regardless of age; 
  • If you’re 57 or younger and made $60,000 or less; or 
  • If you made $73,000 or less and served as active military

If you don’t qualify for using the Free File, don’t worry — you might still have other options through the state government website. The Taxpayer Assistance Program (TAP) offers tax prep help through a webinar for those who made less than $73,000. You’ll need to have your documents, access to a computer and Internet, a few hours to devote to the webinar — where you’ll be guided through your return — and you’ll have to follow up after you file. 

Help elsewhere in the five boroughs

You can get help at several branches of the New York Public Library, as well as the AARP, the Food Bank and Ariva, as well as the nonprofits mentioned earlier. You qualify for free prep and filing if:

  • You earned $56,000 or less in 2022, or
  • Your family earned $80,000 or less in 2022

I’m a small-business owner or a freelancer — where can I get help with my taxes?

Starting this year, a few NYC free tax prep sites also offer specialized tax prep and filing help for freelancers, small-business owners and gig workers who might have more elaborate tax returns. You’ll need to fill in a few extra forms if this is your situation: along with your government-issued ID, SSN and any W-2s attached to wages, you’ll have to bring forms related to income earned from your small-business or freelance work, such as a 1099, as well as proof of expenses related to your work— like rent statements, gas receipts, vehicle insurance, Internet or utility bills paid, etc. Find the complete list of tax-prep requirements for small-business owners, freelancers and gig workers here.

You can also use the map of NYC’s free tax-prep sites to filter for centers who help self-employed taxpayers. Click on the “Services Provided” option on the map and select the “Show sites that offer Self-employed/Schedule C assistance.”

I think I made a mistake and want to file again. How do I do that?

The IRS has a tool allowing you to amend your return. You’ll have to have your reason for amending it ready and go through their interactive tax assistant tool to make changes. 

OK, I filed my return. Where can I check the status of my refund?

The IRS will send most refunds within 21 days of filing, unless there’s an issue with your bank if you signed up for direct deposit; they’re reviewing missing or incorrect information on your return; or if you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC), which won’t be issued until mid-February. 

You can check the status of your New York state tax return refund here and the status of your federal return refund here.

What if I want to volunteer to help with tax prep?

There are many places that can use tax prep experts and volunteers! 

New York Cares has instructions for anyone hoping to become a volunteer tax preparer. You’ll attend an info session, go through the VITA volunteer lessons and resources, practice creating returns and then hit the books for the certification exams. 

You don’t have to worry about memorizing tax law — the exams are open book, open notes and you can take them twice. 

Take a look at the primer New York Care provides and get started. 

If you have more questions about filing taxes this year that aren’t covered by this guide, let us know at ask@thecity.nyc.

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