WHEN IT COMES TO filing your taxes, the last expense you may want to pay is a fee to file your return.
The good news is this: Nearly anyone can file taxes for free if they’re willing to use certain products and systems. When it comes to which free tax-filing product is the best for you, “it really depends on your specific situation,” says Eric Roebuck, lead product manager for H&R Block. Taxpayers should review their options and select the best match for their filing situation, the complexity of their tax return and their adjusted gross income.
Here’s how to file your taxes for free:
- Visit the Free File Alliance.
- Use free fillable online forms.
- Use the software providers’ own free forms.
- Check out the MyFreeTaxes initiative.
- Explore Military OneSource.
- Find help in the community.
- Consider your state return.
Read on for more information on each strategy.
Visit the Free File Alliance
The Free File Alliance is a nonprofit group of tax software providers who partner with the Internal Revenue Service to process federal returns for free. About 100 million people, or 70 percent of American taxpayers, are eligible for Free File, says Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance. “It’s safe, it’s free and it’s easy,” Hugo says. To take advantage of the services, head to the homepage for the Free File Alliance. Tax software providers partnered with the Free File Alliance include:
- H&R Block’s Free File
- TurboTax Free File Program
- FreeTax Returns.com (website: freetaxes.free1040taxreturn.com)
- FreeTaxUSA IRS Free File Edition
- TaxAct Free File
- eSmart Free File Edition
- 1040.com Free File Edition
- Online Taxes at OLT.com
To qualify to use the software programs offered, filers must have an adjusted gross income below $66,000 in 2018. Take note that some of the software partners have more stringent requirements. For example, the Turbo Tax Free File Program requires an AGI of less than $34,000, with a few exceptions.
Take note that even filers with complex tax situations can use the Free File Program, which requires the software providers to offer 34 core forms, including the form 1040, Schedule A for itemized deductions, Schedule D for investment gains and losses and other specialized tax paperwork.
Hugo stresses that users of Free File should enter through the IRS portal to ensure they’re getting the truly free IRS-partnered product.
Use Free Fillable Online Forms
Those earning more than $66,000 may file for free through the Free File alliance via fillable online forms, which resemble paper forms, Hugo says. These forms won’t have the same user-friendly format that the software providers offer, but they are an option for higher-income filers who are comfortable without all the bells and whistles.
Use the Software Providers’ Own Free Forms
Tax providers also may offer their own free tax software products. For example, taxpayers can file through the TurboTax Free Edition for simple tax federal returns. H&R Block’s Online Free Product also offers free returns for eligible filers. TaxAct has a Free Edition for “no-frills federal filing.”
Instead of being reserved for filers with low adjusted gross incomes, these free products are generally tailored to filers who have simple tax-filing situations. If you need to use a range of forms and to claim various and complex deductions, you may not qualify. State returns may also be included as part of the free product.
Additionally, unlike the Free File Alliance, individual software providers may hawk upsells and upgrades for a fee.
When opting to choose a free software provider, do your research, says Mark Jaeger, director of tax development at tax software company TaxAct. In exchange for free filing, you may be offering up personal data or allowing the product-makers to use your information for other purposes. “Be careful and read the fine print about what it means to use their software,” Jaeger says. For TaxAct, the company doesn’t mind giving out free federal returns if it encourages people to opt to use TaxAct’s Marketplace, where they can use their refund to purchase gift cards and other offers, Jaeger says.
Check out the MyFreeTaxes Initiative
This partnership between H&R Block and United Way brings free filing for federal and state returns to taxpayers making less than $66,000. Users enter a secure H&R Block website, which handles the filing experience, and they can complete filing on a desktop or mobile device.
Explore Military OneSource
For qualified military personnel, Military OneSource offers free tax preparation software and addresses tax situations unique to those who have served in the military.
Find Help in the Community
There are a range of community programs that may help you file your taxes for free. For example, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs offer free IRS-partnered tax help to low-income families and older Americans. Find resources near you through the IRS.gov website.
When using free tax resources, make sure that you watch out for scammers who are offering “free” help in order to steal your personal information or tax refund. Work with a group that’s affiliated with a legitimate backer, such as the IRS.
Consider Your State Return
Nearly two dozen states provide free state returns in partnership with the software companies that join with the Free File Alliance. “Many of the states have set up a state free file program, and they mimic or pattern it after the federal free file program,” Hugo says.
Your state may also have a custom tool, like a free fillable form, on its tax site that state filers can use at no charge, Jaeger says. Tax software providers may raise prices throughout tax season, Jaeger says, so if you want to get a free state return through a tax software program, aim to file your taxes early.