It’s tax season, so there is no shortage of advertisements for companies or services that want to help you do your taxes.
However, you may have wondered if you can do your taxes for free. The routes to doing your taxes for free can be challenging to find, so using these services might seem like the only option.
Read on to understand where you can file your federal taxes online for free, and what the process is.
Where to File Online for Free
Tax preparation service websites can be tricky to navigate. Sometimes, the websites even hide the free option from potential customers. For this reason, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) dedicated a portion of the IRS website to educate people on how to do their taxes for free. The site is called Free File and offers different options based on your income.
The website is unique because it gives taxpayers several options to choose from based on their needs. When users access the website, they will be asked to put in a bit of personal information. This will help the website’s algorithm to determine which software the user is eligible to use.
Then, it will give the user options to click on as they evaluate which tax software is the best option for them. When users click through to one of the available options, they will navigate away from the IRS website and to one of the Free File Alliance member sites. Not only that, but it will navigate users directly to the free product of the service provider they choose.
What is the Free File Alliance?
When you visit the IRS Free File website, you will notice that it links to offers for third party companies. These companies are known as the Free File Alliance. According to the alliance’s website, the Free File Alliance is a nonprofit coalition of industry-leading tax software companies partnered with the IRS to help millions of Americans prepare and e-file their federal tax returns for free. The Free File Alliance includes:
- Free 1040 Tax Return
- H&R Block
In the past 17 years that the Free File Alliance has been around, they have helped more than 56 million people file their tax returns. The service is unique because it gives taxpayers access to the different tax software options available from members of the alliance.
Users must choose Free File software and then they are seamlessly transferred from the IRS website to the company’s website to complete their tax returns.
How to File Taxes Online for Free
The resources available through the Free File website vary depending on an individual’s income level and their work status. Over 100 million Americans are eligible to use this service. Additionally, there are additional resources available for people serving in the military.
If You Make Less Than $69,000 Per Year
If you earn under $69,000 per year, you can use the free options from providers other than the IRS. The good news is, about 70% of Americans qualify for this option.
TurboTax, H&R Block, and other companies have free options that you can download and use online. However, it can still be a challenge to find these free options. Fortunately, the IRS also has a online lookup tool that allows users to find the correct version of these programs. The tool asks for some of your basic information then pairs you with the appropriate program. Most of the tools have options for filing both state and federal income tax returns.
Free File was created for individuals who earn less than $69,000 per year. The online system allows users to file their taxes using their software. Users can also file their state income taxes on Free File.
If You Make More Than $69,000 Per Year
Not to worry, if you earn more than $69,000 per year, you may still have several free options available to you. However, these options seem less viable because websites like TurboTax, H&R Block, and more will try to get you to purchase the paid versions of their software. These websites have gotten into some trouble in recent years by advertising free programs only to put up a paywall just before someone submits their taxes.
Note that there are fewer forms available on Free File for individuals who earn over $69,000 per year. The Free File website offers less support for individuals in this scenario, and does not provide state tax prep or the opportunity to use their software; users must know how to do their taxes themselves.
If You Are in the Military
For active-duty military, their family members, and anyone in the Guard or Reserves, there is an option to use MilTax. MilTax is a service that the Department of Defense offers that includes free advice and free use of a proprietary version of H&R Block’s tax software.
MilTax becomes available on January 22nd each year and offers electronic filing via a do-it-yourself platform. The website is open year-round for extensions and other unique circumstances. MilTax also has Military OneSource tax consultants that are available year-round and are either certified public accountants (CPAs) or enrolled IRS agents. These tax consultants are available on a by-appointment basis to service members and their families. They can help them maximize their refund and navigate the confusing tax scenarios that affect members of the armed forces.
How Can I Get Professional Tax Help for Free?
While having the IRS Free File or MilTax resources are great, many people have more questions about their taxes. Taxes are highly individualized, so having access to a tax professional can be the difference between someone getting a tax return and having to pay taxes after Tax Day.
The IRS has a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). The program is available to people who earn $56,000 or less, people with disabilities, and people who do not speak English as a first language. The VITA program is staffed by volunteers who can provide basic assistance with the tax filing process.
Another program available is Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). This program helps all taxpayers but specializes in those over age 60. They are well-trained in topics such as pensions and other retirement-related issues that plague seniors.
Both VITA and TCE have sites located in community centers, libraries, and other community-focused locations such as shopping malls. You can use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887 to find a location and get information on hours and what you should bring to your consultation. It is important to note that individuals can ‘self-prep’ using a computer and the software available at select sites, but not all sites have this option.
Another in-person tax assistance option is the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program. Tax aides are available at thousands of locations nationwide from February 1st through Tax Day on April 15th. You can use their website to find a location and learn what documents you will need to bring with you. It is important to note that this program is available to individuals over the age of 50 and can’t afford a tax preparation service. The IRS certifies all of the AARP Foundation Tax Aide Program volunteers.
If you cannot go to a physical location to meet with a volunteer, the IRS has a Help with Tax Questions page that anyone can access. The page features an Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) that asks a series of questions and can provide answers on several topics. They also have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, a Tax Topics page, and a Tax Trails page. The Tax Topics page provides information on dozens of common tax questions for both individuals and businesses, and the Tax Trails page is an interactive tool that helps you find the answers to frequently asked questions.
Why Do Some Websites Charge Me to Do My Taxes?
Every tax preparation software has features that set it apart. However, the reason you are getting charged to use them is largely the same. In short, companies like TurboTax, H&R Block, and more are companies that need to make a profit in exchange for their service. These companies know that it is nearly impossible to do your taxes on your own unless you have a background in accounting.
Therefore, if you make less than $34,000 per year, every software available on the Free File website should have a free version available to use on their sites, but many will end up charging you. Users end up paying for the ease of use and expertise of a third party.
Some other qualifications, in addition to making less than $34,000 per year, including that users must work either full-time or part-time, have paid student loans, or are retired. In other words, it is still difficult to qualify to get free tax preparation software. If you fall outside of these parameters or have other assets and deficits, you will likely be required to pay. Disqualifiers include if you own a home, are an independent contractor, or take other forms of income throughout the year.
You can find the free versions of each service at this link. However, some of these companies make it very difficult to find a free version of their software. If you can’t find a link to the free version of your chosen provider online, the IRS Website’s list of 12 companies and links to their free software is available online.
The Bottom Line
The IRS partnered with Free File because, although it is a private company, it provides taxpayers with high-quality services that help to maximize how people interact with the government. Free File allows individuals to access free or affordable tax preparation software from the comfort of their homes and will enable people to seek free tax advice if they need to. Additionally, Free File helps pair active duty military and their family members with military-specific free tax preparation.
Ultimately, Free File has helped over 54 million Americans file their taxes in nearly two decades. It helps to cut the fat that some tax preparation websites have and grants clear access to free tax preparation software.
Michael launched Wealth of Geeks to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.