There are many different ways to file your taxes for free, but these options are typically reserved for folks under certain income thresholds or simpler tax returns.
If you meet certain requirements, you can file your taxes for free using online software programs, or receive direct help from tax professionals who volunteer through a program sponsored by the IRS.
“These free services are also beneficial to taxpayers in that they can offer significant cost savings. Many taxpayers with relatively simple returns often pay hundreds of dollars to file their taxes through national tax preparation companies,” says Nell Curtis, an accounting instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College in Wisconsin.
Here’s a look at the various options and which one may fit your financial situation the best.
1. Free Versions of Online Tax Software
Many of the big tax preparation companies will bring in customers with the offer of “free” filing, says Curtis. But beware of the upsell.
We at Forbes Advisor reviewed four of the top online tax software platforms, and our top free pick for simple tax returns is Cash App Taxes where you can file both your federal and state taxes for free. The service includes several forms, including self-employment, as part of their free package.
Unlike Cash App Taxes, some online tax software providers offer limited form options. “Often, if the return requires any additional forms like a Schedule A or C, that costs extra. In many cases the federal return might be free, but a state return will have an additional cost.”
When you’re choosing a free product, read the fine print. Most of these products come with limitations that may exclude your specific situation, including your income and the forms you need to file. Also, consider the complexity of your taxes: If you think you’ll need professional help while filing, some tax software companies offer CPA assistance—but you’ll likely have to pay for it.
Read more: The Best Tax Software of 2023
2. IRS Free File
The IRS Free File program provides free tax filing from many online tax software companies to Americans with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $73,000 or less in 2022, including TaxAct and TaxSlayer. If you earn more, you can use a different online program called the Free File Fillable Forms. If you need an automatic extension to file, you can do that online also.
“The IRS Free File program connects taxpayers who qualify to vetted online tax preparation services and is an option that many people overlook,” Curtis says.
The advantage of Free File is that the experience is similar or nearly the same as you would get using TaxSlayer’s advertised free filing product because the software programs were created by these large tax filing companies. But in most cases, you can file more forms for free using the IRS Free File site compared to using the online tax software product directly.
“Someone with relatively simple taxes who meets the requirements should seriously consider the Free File program,” Curtis adds.
To successfully use Free Fillable Forms, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with paper forms and do basic tax calculations with limited guidance. It’s also for federal taxes only; you can’t file state taxes through this program.
Read more: 12 Common Tax Myths, Busted
The IRS has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, with partnerships all over the U.S., that provides free tax preparation for people who qualify. The VITA program offers free tax help for individuals who generally make $60,000 or less, people with disabilities and limited English-speaking taxpayers.
VITA volunteers must pass certification exams to participate. Every return must go through a quality review process before it is filed, Curtis says.
“This can be a good option for someone who isn’t comfortable doing their own taxes but still wants to take advantage of a free filing program,” Curtis adds, who is the site coordinator for Milwaukee Area Technical College’s VITA program.
You should prepare for your appointment beforehand. Here’s a list of items you should bring to your VITA appointment. Along with these items, taxpayers also need to provide photo IDs and social security cards/taxpayer identification number (TIN) letters to prove their identities.
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