This tax season, those seeking no-cost assistance in preparing their income tax returns might be eligible for a special programs sponsored by the IRS. Such assistance is administered via volunteer-staffed programs in local communities.

The IRS has identified ten top characteristics of these programs that consumers should be aware of:

1.  There are two distinct tax-preparation assistance programs available:  the Volunteer Income Assistance Program ("VITA"); and, Tax Counseling for the Elderly ("TCE");

2.  VITA assistance is available for taxpayers whose gross annual incomes fall below $49,900. The majority of VITA centers provide electronic filing for no charge;

3.  Taxpayers must be at least 60 years of age to qualify for free TCE assistance;

4.  The community-based volunteers who participate in these free tax preparation assistance programs receive IRS training.  This insures that taxpayers receive all allowable credits to which they are entitled. Common examples include tax credits for earned income, Credit for the Elderly, and Child Tax Credit;

5.  An added advantage offered at many such local assistance locations is the availability of bilingual volunteers. Such personnel provide specialized help to taxpayers whose first language is not English;

6.  Over 12,000 such sites have been established across the country this tax year. Essential services required by low-income taxpayers are increasingly accessible via community-based nonprofit organizations in response to IRS efforts;

7.  More than 6,000 sites nationwide provide TCE assistance via the AARP's Tax-Aide program.  Specially-trained volunteers with AARP certification provide needed help to low-to-moderate income taxpayers.  Special emphasis is focused on such taxpayers who are 60 years or age or older;

8.  The US Armed Forces has also joined forces with the IRS and offers free tax return preparation for active-duty service members and their dependents.  A specialized council of the Armed forces ("AFTC") coordinates joint efforts by all service branches.  AFTC volunteers have specialized training and the ability to handle tax matters which are specific to military members.  Tax benefits for service in a combat zone is one example;

9.  Physical locations and business hours are made public via local information sources such as telephone hotlines or community-based organizations;

10.  Information about the locations of VITA assistance centers may be obtained online at  Taxpayers may also call 1-800-906-9887 without charge to access the IRS locator service.  For the nearest Tax Aide sites sponsored by the A.A.R.P., call 1-888-AARPNOW.