For those overwhelmed, lost or just confused about how to start working on those 2004 tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service offers lots of advice, information and assistance.
Look to the IRS Web site — www.irs.gov — and the page, called 1040 Central, designed to help taxpayers find basic information on getting started. Links guide taxpayers to information about filing and tax law changes. Frequently asked questions may be the best place to start. Browse the tax tips, seek advice about finding a tax professional or tracking down a missing refund. Specific information highlights the special needs and advice for lower income workers, military personnel and others.
Tax laws can be complicated. The IRS can help with detailed publications to explain the definitions of tax terms and the tax implications of everything from education to homeownership to retirement. There even is a publication just to explain the IRS's free tax services. Start with publication 17, which provides a survey of major tax topics and refers taxpayers to other, more detailed publications. Look to publication 910 to find that free help.
Forms and instructions
Most people who filed a tax return last year and have not moved will get the basic forms and instruction material sent to their home. Check your local library or post office for the forms, instructions and any additional material you might need.
Taxpayers can order current and older forms, instructions and publications by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Forms and instructions also can be downloaded and printed from the IRS Web site. The IRS also will fax those forms to you. Call 1-703-368-9694 from the fax machine and follow the prompts. The IRS does not make a toll-free number available for this service.
Call the IRS with tax questions at 1-800-829-1040. For answers to general questions, try the automated help line called TeleTax, which lets callers listen to prerecorded messages. Dial 1-800-829-4477 and follow the prompts. The topics covered are listed in the instruction booklet for Form 1040.
IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers provide help in person by answering questions, handling tax accounts, explaining letters or notices and creating payment plans. Appointments are not necessary but can be scheduled. Check the phone book or the IRS Web site for a center near you. A phone interpreter can help taxpayers who do not speak English.
Taxpayers can get free help preparing their returns at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. Call 1-800-829-1040 to find a site near you. Taxpayers can call the AARP, which runs the most elderly counseling centers, at 1-888-227-7669 to find one of their locations.