Converting Retirement Accounts into Income
Cancer and its treatment can leave survivors with the need for more income. During a time of financial need you might consider borrowing or withdrawing money from a retirement plan to obtain more income. However, converting retirement funds into income is a complex matter with important financial and tax implications, especially if you withdraw funds before you reach retirement age. Specific rules and guidelines apply to the use of funds for each type of retirement account. It is important to fully understand your options as well as the effect that using your retirement funds for income could have on your financial situation.
Converting Retirement Accounts into Income: Detailed Information
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources documents for questions to ask and for more resources.
Cancer and its treatment can leave survivors with the need for more income. During a time of financial need, you might consider using funds from your retirement account. Converting retirement accounts into income is borrowing or withdrawing money from a plan before reaching the retirement age specified by the policy. Each retirement plan has its own set of rules about taking money from your account. Some plans allow you to borrow or withdraw funds early, although there may be fees and taxes that you will have to pay if you do so.
There are other important implications if you use retirement funds before you reach retirement age. For example, you reduce the amount of funds in your retirement account and lose the ability to accumulate tax-free and/or tax deferred income on the withdrawn funds. In addition, you may also lose important credit and tax considerations given to most retirement accounts, such as protection from creditors.
Before deciding to use your retirement funds for extra income, talk with family and close friends. There may be other options to help you obtain more money, such as through a personal loan or the sale of something you own. Also, if you qualify, there may be financial assistance through a variety of government or nonprofit programs. For example, some programs help people obtain health care services and/or prescription medications at reduced rates or no cost, depending on the level of need.
If you are thinking about using your retirement plan funds, talk with the plan administrator and/or a financial expert such as an accountant or tax attorney. It is important that you fully understand what effect this could have on your financial situation. Keep in mind that specific rules and guidelines apply to the use of funds for each type of retirement account.
This document provides useful information related to converting various types of retirement accounts into income, including:
- Options for converting retirement accounts
- Differences between loans and withdrawals (distributions)
- Differences between transfers and rollovers
- Understanding retirement plans and rules to access funds
- Requirements for a hardship withdrawal from a retirement account
Options for Converting Retirement Accounts into Income
There are a variety of options available for using funds from your retirement account. However, before you choose this method to get extra income, consider whether your immediate need for money is greater than your need to save for retirement. Be certain that you know what your plan allows, and how taking some or all of your money from your retirement account will affect your financial situation. If you are married or have dependents, keep in mind that this decision could also affect the financial situation of your loved ones.
The requirements to convert retirement accounts into income vary greatly. Each plan generally has specific rules regarding allowable reasons for taking funds from the account, specific terms for repayment and a specified maximum dollar amount that can borrowed or withdrawn. For example, your employer's policy might require you to prove that you have no other personal financial resources available to qualify for a loan.
The most common methods of taking funds from retirement accounts include:
- Withdrawals (distributions)
Using Loans and Withdrawals to Access Income
Although income taxes have to be paid on most withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts, many plans allow you to withdraw money from your retirement account without penalties in certain situations.
The following situations are examples of times when no penalty fee will be assessed on qualified retirement accounts and traditional IRAs:
1. You are at least the age of retirement that is specified by your plan.
2. You are disabled and meet your plan's specific definition of being disabled.
3. You are age 55 or older and leave the employ of the company that sponsored your retirement plan.
4. You are younger than the retirement age specified by the plan, leave your place of employment and arrange to take equal withdrawals (called Substantially Equal Periodic Payments or SEPP) from your plan. These payment amounts are based on your life expectancy according to standard Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tables. A history or diagnosis of cancer is not a factor used to determine life expectancy for this option.
5. You are 50 or older and are a retired police officer, firefighter or emergency medical services provider. This exception does not apply to traditional IRAs.
6. You have medical expenses, as defined by the IRS, that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the tax year. Allowable medical expenses include the costs of diagnosis, cure, treatment and prevention of disease as well as the costs of equipment, supplies and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. Check the current Medical and Dental Expenses IRS publication for specific information.
The following table compares loan and withdrawal methods of converting income from retirement accounts:
Withdrawals or Distributions
||A loan is money taken from certain qualified retirement accounts with the intention of paying it back with interest. The amount of money that can be borrowed is usually a percentage defined by the plan. For example, the borrowing limit is typically up to 50 percent of the vested (amount you own) balance up to an amount specified by the account.
||A withdrawal is money taken from your retirement account with no intention of paying it back. The amount of money that can be withdrawn is defined by the plan and may have vesting (ownership) requirements, such as length of employment.
||The employer determines whether or not you qualify for a loan.
Loans are more flexible than withdrawals because you may not have to demonstrate a purpose. Many plans permit loans for any purpose.
Loans are less expensive than withdrawals because they are not subject to tax if repaid within five years or at the time of employment separation.
Check your employer's retirement plan policy for specifics on taking a loan from the plan.
If you leave your place of employment or are laid off, you will have to repay the loan (usually within 60 days) or the outstanding loan balance is considered income and may be assessed a tax penalty.
Interest on a loan is usually not tax deductible.
|If you meet the definition of "disability" in the retirement plan, funds can usually be withdrawn without penalty, although taxes will have to be paid.
If your plan allows, withdrawals from after-tax contributions can be made at any time for any purpose, and only the tax-deferred earnings are subject to tax. Withdrawals from Roth IRA contributions can be made after a five-year holding period.
Withdrawals from pre-tax contributions can only be made in certain hardship circumstances and are subject to income tax plus a 10 percent tax penalty for most early withdrawals from qualified plans and traditional IRAs.
Using Transfers and Rollovers to Access Income
Transfers and rollovers are a way to move funds from one retirement plan to another, such as when changing employers. They can also be used to access additional income on a short-term basis. This method works well if the income is needed right away. However, if the full withdrawn fund amount is not re-deposited into another retirement account within 60 days, you will have to pay fees and taxes.
The rules for transfers and rollovers are different. Usually, funds can be "rolled over" from one plan to another one time per year (per plan). Direct transfers (trustee to trustee or custodian to custodian) can be made from one plan to another multiple times per year. A rollover, where the plan funds are received by you and rolled over within 60 days, is only allowed once per year.
Transfers or rollovers are often considered because:
1. You may need to pay medical bills right away but will be paid back by your health insurance company later. (Retirement assets can be used for up to 60 days without having to pay income tax or penalty fees.)
2. You may want to move your money from an account that does not allow early withdrawals to one that does.
3. You might find another retirement account that does not charge penalty fees for early withdrawals.
4. You decide to put your money in a different account that is earning a greater interest rate, or in an account that has more investment choices.
The following table compares transfers and rollovers as short-term methods of accessing additional income:
||A transfer is the process of moving funds from one retirement account directly to a new account, without having it in your possession. Transfers may be made periodically as defined by the plan's rules.
||A rollover is the process of moving funds from one tax-deferred retirement plan to another. A rollover happens when leaving a job where the employer provided a retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Only pre-tax contributions are eligible for rollover.
||If you transfer money directly from one plan to another and do not take possession of the money, the transfer is tax deferred and there are no penalties to pay.
Retirement funds can be transferred among different investment options under your retirement plan.
Transfers may be subject to fees, such as commissions, taxes or penalties, if you take possession of the money (minus federal withholding tax) and transfer only the amount you received.
Transfers may be subject to penalties, fees and/or taxes if you transfer the money into a non-qualified investment account.
|Any of your contributions into your retirement plan (plus the amount of income growth they earned) are 100% vested (you own them) immediately.
The employer's contributions into your retirement plan (plus the income growth they earned) are usually subject to a vesting schedule that typically provides for increased benefit ownership with increased years of service.
You can rollover your vested retirement funds either to a new employer's plan or to an IRA if you change jobs or retire early.
In such a case, a check for the amount of the vested funds is usually submitted directly to the new plan.
It is important to properly complete the rollover paperwork to avoid any federal tax withholding from the rollover amount.
The check needs to be made out to the manager, trustee or custodian of the new retirement account and deposited into a new account within 60 days to avoid having to pay a penalty for early withdrawal.
If you actually take possession of your retirement funds during the rollover process, your plan will withhold tax of 20 percent. You will be required to pay income tax on the money not returned to a retirement account, including the 20 percent withholding tax you did not receive.
Among different plans, rollovers are allowed once a year and are not taxed. However, there may be fees and/or a charge to do so.
Even though the money stays in a retirement plan, a rollover must be reported on your tax return.
If you do not make the deposit of your retirement funds into a new retirement plan within 60 days, you are generally required to pay taxes and fees and the transaction becomes a withdrawal (taxable distribution), not a rollover.
Rollovers may be subject to fees, such as commissions or penalties.
Before making a decision about withdrawing or borrowing from your retirement account or doing a transfer or a rollover of your retirement plan funds, check with your accountant, the plan administrator, and/or an IRS specialist. Your employer's human resources department should also be a good source of information about your retirement plan. Ask for a copy of your retirement policy because you need to know if the type of transaction you have in mind will be permitted, and whether it will be subject to a withholding tax and penalty fee.
Understanding Retirement Plans and Rules to Access Funds
The federal government encourages saving for retirement by providing tax benefits for investments in certain retirement accounts, retirement plans or pension plans. The two categories of retirement plans that allow the use of funds before retirement age are:
1. Employer-sponsored retirement plans
2. Individual (private) retirement accounts (IRAs)
The following table provides a general overview of the rules related to accessing money before retirement age from employer-sponsored plans
|Employer-sponsored plans are created by the employer to provide employees a way to save for retirement. Employer-sponsored retirement plans offer employers and employees significant tax advantages. There are qualified retirement plans and non-qualified plans.
Employer-sponsored plans include 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans, employer and employee association trust accounts, money purchase plans, profit-sharing plans, SEP-IRAs (Simplified Employee Pensions) and SIMPLE IRAs (Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees).
- Retirement plan loan provisions (such as how much can be borrowed, the interest rate, the purpose of the loan and the length of time to repay the loan) may vary among employers and among the types of plans the employer uses. Be sure you understand the specific terms of your plan.
- If you qualify for a loan, you are usually able to borrow up to one-half of your vested funds up to a specified amount.
- If you have a loan balance against your plan when you change jobs, you must repay the balance. If you do not repay a loan as scheduled, the transaction will be treated as a withdrawal and will be subject to the tax and penalty fees that apply to withdrawals.
- Loans are not permitted from an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).
- Withdrawals can be made for special purposes ("hardships"), including funding medical expenses, tuition costs, home purchase, or to prevent mortgage foreclosure.
- Withdrawals are generally subject to income tax and often a 10 percent tax penalty for early withdrawals.
- There are different tax consequences for the various options to withdraw employer stock in your plan: to cash out, take stock certificates, or to roll over to an IRA.
- Withdrawals of ESOP dividends are not subject to the tax penalty for early withdrawals.
|Transfers and Rollovers
- When changing jobs or retiring early, you can rollover your vested pre-tax retirement funds to a new employer's plan or to an IRA.
- After-tax IRA contributions have different rollover rules.
The following table provides a general overview of the rules related to accessing money before retirement age from Individual (Private) Retirement Accounts (IRAs):
|Individual Retirement Accounts are personal retirement plans with tax advantages. Money can be withdrawn from an IRA account if you become disabled.
The most common types of IRAs include annuities, Keogh plans, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, individual retirement annuities, SEP IRAs, Simple IRAs, inherited IRAs, rollover (conduit) IRAs and spousal IRAs.
- Loans are permitted only from certain qualified retirement plans, such as pensions, profit-sharing and 401(k) plans.
- Loans are not permitted from IRAs.
- Loans from annuities are usually not permitted.
- Withdrawals from an IRA can usually be made for any purpose at any time (except Roth IRAs which require a five-year holding period). However, if the money was not taxed before it went into the plan, it will be taxed when you withdraw it.
- With few exceptions, if you are under age 59½, you will likely have to pay a 10 percent penalty on the withdrawal as it is considered an early distribution.
- Withdrawals can be taken from your IRA tax-free and free of penalty if you repay the full amount within 60 days. However, you can only do this once within a 12-month period.
- Withdrawals from qualified annuities (funded with pre-tax dollars) are difficult to make and more expensive. There is a 10 percent tax penalty for early withdrawals and the surrender fees, set by the plan sponsor, range from zero to 10 percent.
- Withdrawals from non-qualified annuities (funded with after-tax dollars) have different tax considerations. Consult with a tax expert for guidance in working with annuity funds.
- Withdrawals may be allowed to pay for medical insurance for yourself, your spouse and your dependents if you lost your job. The withdrawal cannot be for more than the cost of the insurance premiums, and you must meet other specific criteria as well.
- Withdrawals may be allowed to pay certain debts owed to the IRS.
|Transfers and Rollovers
- Rollovers between different plans are typically permitted one time per year and are not subject to taxes. However, they may be subject to fees.
- Direct transfers between different plans may be made periodically according to plan rules and may be subject to tax or fees.
Requirements for a Hardship Withdrawal
During certain periods in your life, and depending on the type of retirement plan you have, you may find yourself eligible for a "hardship withdrawal" from your account. According to the IRS regulations, a hardship withdrawal must be for an immediate and heavy financial need that requires the retirement account funds to meet the financial need. The IRS also requires that there are no other resources reasonably available to you for those financial needs.
The IRS specifies the following four reasons as meeting the requirements for an early hardship withdrawal:
1. Specific types of medical expenses for you, your spouse or your dependents
2. Purchase of a primary residence, excluding mortgage payments
3. Payments of certain post-secondary education expenses for you, your spouse or your dependents
4. To avoid eviction from or foreclosure on your home
Your retirement plan may also allow hardship withdrawals for other reasons. For example, many plans allow you to withdraw the funds if you become totally and permanently disabled. To qualify, you must present evidence to prove that you are disabled and meet a standard of disability similar to those used for eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.
After you notify the plan administrator that you have decided to convert the retirement asset, he or she should advise you of the process required by the plan. You should also receive the appropriate paperwork and be informed about the time estimates for receiving the money. Keep in mind that some retirement plans prohibit contributions to your plan for a minimum of six months following a hardship withdrawal. If you want to check into the early withdrawal option further, be certain to research your specific plan's requirements.
There are many factors to consider if you want to withdraw or borrow funds from your retirement account. Using the money now can affect the income you and your family may need during your retirement years. If you decide that you do need to use retirement funds now, consult with the plan administrator, your accountant and/or an attorney who specializes in tax planning to gain specific information, such as facts about retirement fund distributions, taxes, fees and other costs.
This document was produced in collaboration with:
David S. Landay, Esq., author of Be Prepared: The Complete Financial, Legal and Practical Guide for Living with Cancer, HIV and Other Life-Challenging Conditions.
Hoffman, Ellen. "Take the Cash and Run? Or Should You Find a Better Way to Pull Money from Your 401(k) Account?" AARP.org. July/August 2002. AARP Bulletin. 11 May 2006.
Landay, David S. Be Prepared: The Complete Financial, Legal and Practical Guide to Living With Cancer, HIV and Other Life-Challenging Conditions. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
"Managing Retirement Assets in the Event of a Layoff." Advisorinsight.com. Retirement Insight. 11 May 2006.
"Retirement Accounts at Work" and "Managing Money in Retirement." AARP.org. AARP Retirement Planning. 9 October 2006.
"Retirement Plans FAQs regarding Hardship Withdrawals." IRS.gov. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. 11 October 2006. www.irs.gov
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Forms 5329, 6251 and Form 1040, Schedule A&B Instructions. Washington, D.C: IRS Individual Forms and Publications Branch, 2004.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Publications 17, 101 501, 502, 503, 519, 523, 525, 551, 558, 590, 907 and 969. Washington, D.C: IRS Individual Forms and Publications Branch, 2004.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Publications 570, 575 and 590. Washington, D.C: IRS Individual Forms and Publications Branch, 2004.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Tax Topics 101 and 551. Washington, D.C: IRS Individual Forms and Publications Branch, 2004.
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Converting Retirement Accounts into Income: Suggestions
The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources document for links to more resources.
Gather information about each of your retirement plans to review the rules and regulations that apply to each plan. Check with your employer's human resources department for specific information about the employer-sponsored retirement plan. Ask for a copy of your retirement plan as you need to know if the type of transaction you have in mind is permitted and whether it will be subject to a withholding tax and penalty fee. Keep in mind that different types of retirement plans have different rules and exceptions that can affect your tax situation.
Before taking funds from your retirement account, consider whether there are changes you can make to reduce expenses. For example, you may discover ways to spend less money on housing, vehicles, clothing or other expenses.
Before deciding to take money from your retirement account, be certain to discuss the options available to you with your retirement plan administrator. If you have questions, contact the account trustee, a financial planner or your accountant. Specifically, you want to avoid unexpected tax bills or penalties when you prepare your tax return.
Think about how you plan to use the money you take from your retirement plan and whether you really need to tap into your account funds.
Consider the following:
- How much income will you need for everyday expenses?
- Are there other sources of income available besides your retirement account(s)?
- Are there disability benefits available to you from group disability benefits through your employer, a personal disability insurance policy or from the Social Security Administration?
- Who else depends on you for financial support?
- What is your health situation and that of your partner and/or other family members?
Be aware of personal factors that might affect your decision to move money from your retirement account. These may include:
- Health status
- Family needs
- Other sources of income
- Tax situation
- Knowledge of investment options
- Money management skills
There is information available on the Internal Revenue Service Web site, including copies of relevant tax forms.
A complete list of important tax information is available from the IRS both online and in printed form including the following:
- For information about toll-free telephone numbers and tax assistance programs that may apply to your needs, review Tax Topic 101.
- For information on itemized deductions compared to using the standard deduction, refer to Form 1040, Schedule A & B Instructions, or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. You may also refer to Topic 551 and Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.
- For information related to taxes and income, see IRS publication 525, Taxable and Non-taxable Income.
- For information about Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA), refer to Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements.
- For information about tax law for individuals with disabilities, see Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilities.
If you request assistance from an IRS specialist, have the following information gathered before making the contact:
- The type of IRA plan you have
- The total dollar amount in the plan, as well as the amount that was previously taxed and the amount that was deposited tax free
- The amount you want to take out and for how long
- How you plan to use the money
Consider other short-term funding sources during a period of economic hardship, such as:
- Savings accounts
- Money market funds
- Other investments that can be easily turned into cash
- Home equity loans or lines of credit
- Roth IRA contributions (the tax has already been paid on these) after a five-year holding period
- Disability benefits from a group disability policy through your employer, a personal disability insurance policy or from the Social Security Administration
Before you decide to take money from your retirement account, ask yourself:
1. Is your retirement account an employer-sponsored plan or an IRA?
2. Does your specific plan legally allow you to take the funds before you reach retirement age? If so, will the plan permit you to use the money for the reason(s) you want it for?
3. Will the funds you take out of your retirement account be taxed?
4. Will the funds you take out be subject to an additional "penalty" tax?
5. Is your current need for money more important than saving for retirement?
6. Can you afford to lose the protections given retirement accounts from creditors and from the IRS?
7. Can you transfer your retirement funds over to another retirement plan that will allow a distribution that avoids a "penalty" tax?
Reassess your financial situation on a regular basis at least once a year. Include considerations of the following during your assessment process:
- Current finances
- Investment strategies and recent outcomes
- Current health situation
- Current and future financial needs of you and your family
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Converting Retirement Accounts into Income: Additional Resources
The resources listed below provide more detailed information and support services to help you with converting retirement accounts into income. Please read the Detailed Information and Suggestions document for more information and questions to ask.
Click a resource for more information:
LIVESTRONG Navigation Services
Online: Complete an intake form through the LIVESTRONG website.
Phone: 1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
LIVESTRONG offers assistance to anyone affected by cancer, including the person diagnosed, loved ones, caregivers and friends. The program provides information about fertility risks and preservation options, treatment choices, health literacy and matching to clinical trials. Emotional support services, peer-to-peer matching and assistance with financial, employment and insurance issues are also available. To provide these services, LIVESTRONG has partnered with several organizations including Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation, Patient Advocate Foundation and EmergingMed.
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National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers (NAPFA) is a professional organization for financial planners. Membership is limited to financial planners who charge customers a set fee rather than those who earn commissions from products that they sell to customers. From their Web site, you can find a fee-only financial planner in your area. The site also includes information about how to choose a financial planner and tips for managing your finances, as well as articles about investing, long-term care and disability insurance policies, retirement planning and more.
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The Financial Planning Association
Calls are answered Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (MST).
The Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) is a nonprofit, membership organization for the financial planning community. FPA offers educational resources to help individuals discover the value of financial planning, including information on investing, tax planning, insurance, retirement planning and more. Tools on the FPA Web site outline financial planning decisions you should consider at different times in your life. The site also includes an online financial planner referral service called PlannerSearch to help you locate a financial planner in your area.
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||Send email through the Web site.
||1-888-OUR AARP (1-888-687-2277)
Calls are answered Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to midnight (EST).
AARP is a nonprofit organization for people over the age of 50. The AARP Web site includes information on a number of financial and practical subjects, and you do not have to be an AARP member or over the age of 50 to access these articles. Financial information includes worksheets for calculating income, expenses and cash flow, as well as tips for overall financial planning, including retirement accounts, reverse mortgages and investing. You can also use the Web site to request help with finding affordable legal services. Some information on the site is available in Spanish.
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Social Security Online
||Send email through the Web site
TTY for deaf and hard of hearing callers: 1-800-325-0778
Calls are answered Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Social Security Online is the official Web site of the federal Social Security Administration, which oversees both Social Security and Medicare. From this site, you can access information and print out forms that relate to all aspects of Social Security and Medicare, including finding out what benefits you qualify for, applying for benefits and requesting information about Social Security policies or procedures. You can also request a personal Social Security Statement that will show how much you (and your employers) have paid in Social Security taxes and what benefits you can expect to receive now and in the future. Information is available in the following languages: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
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Internal Revenue Service
||Send an email through the Web site.
TTY for deaf and hard of hearing callers: 1-800-829-4059
Calls are answered Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time.
From the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Web site, you can view or print fact sheets, tax instructions and forms, IRS publications and frequently asked questions. Tools are available to help you estimate appropriate amounts for withholdings, tax deductible donations and certain tax credits. You can also find out how to file your tax return online or find volunteers who can help you with your tax forms. Contact information is provided for state and local IRS offices. Information on the site is available in Spanish.
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