Friday, March 16, 2018

Tax Time

With just over a month left until tax day (Tuesday, April 17), it's time to get serious about completing 2017 federal and state tax returns. Although the Goodson Law Library staff cannot answer substantive tax-related questions (such as "what forms do I need to file?" or help with interpreting the form instructions), the Goodson Blogson can recommend some starting places for finding tax information and assistance.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Public Law No. 115-97) passed by Congress in late December 2017 marked the first major reform of federal tax law since 1986. Although many of its provisions do not take effect until it is time to file taxes for 2018 or later, some portions of the new law do affect 2017 filings. The Internal Revenue Service Tax Reform page links to news releases and updates related to the new law. (If you're already thinking ahead to next year’s taxes, an interactive Withholding Calculator can help you determine if recent tax law changes should prompt a change to your federal withholdings.) A new title in the library, 2017 Tax Legislation: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Law, Explanation, and Analysis (Tax Collection KF6276.62017 .T55 2017) provides additional guidance to practicing lawyers about the recent law changes. Thomson Reuters Checkpoint contains a similar analysis of the tax reform act.

Thinking about hiring someone to help you through filing taxes? Before you pay for a professional tax preparation service, consider whether you qualify for the IRS Free File program. This service links qualifying taxpayers to free electronic federal tax preparation service (state tax preparation may also be available in some cases). Note that your adjusted gross income must be $66,000 or less in order to take full advantage of the Free File software. However, those with higher incomes can still use Free File Fillable Forms to fill out their federal returns.

You might also qualify for assistance from VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a program in which trained volunteers assist with preparation for low- to moderate-income taxpayers (generally up to $54,000), as well as senior citizens. Duke Law's VITA chapter has some dates into early April; please note that advance appointments may be required. For readers outside the Durham area, the IRS maintains a locator service for VITA sites around the country.

If your taxes turn out to be too complicated, you might need to hire a professional. The IRS has tips for choosing a tax preparer as well as instructions for filing complaints if needed.

More information about federal tax law can be found in the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Federal Tax; for help locating these materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.