There are a lot of free tax prep programs available…and there are many that start out as free but then hit you with fees when it’s time to file. Here we’ll take a look at which software is really free, and whether it will really work for you.
The easiest place to start if you’re income is under $64,000 is the IRS website’s Free File section. There, they’ll direct you to 100% free (and easy to use) software so you can prepare and file your federal income tax return – and, in some cases, even a state income tax return as well. They have a simple online tool that will help you select the best free filing software for your situation, so you don’t have to worry about picking the right one.
For those of you who make more than $64,000, the options here are more limited, but still free. The IRS offers free filing of federal-only “fillable” forms. Basically, they give you full access to all the necessary tax forms, but you have to know which forms you need, what goes on each form, and how to fill it in yourself (online). What this option is very good for: E-filing a free extension of time to file.
Your Non-IRS options
If you’re not crazy about the idea of going through the IRS, most of the major tax prep software companies offer a free version for online filing of basic federal tax returns – usually meaning a 1040EZ or a 1040A. Some let you start a free 1040, but may tack on charges if your return includes extra schedules (like when you have your own business, or sold investments). Plus, some programs also let you file a free state tax return.
For a great breakdown on which free software really is free, plus in-depth reviews on some of the best options, check out this detailed comparison on NerdWallet.