Tax season is nearly here! With the Tuesday, April 17th deadline quickly approaching, you might be wondering about the best free tax software options. Here we’ll cover 5 of the most popular choices and discuss their pros and cons.
Let’s start by walking through the basics of filing a tax return.
Tax filing basics
Many Americans are required to file a federal income tax return. Federal tax law is enforced by the IRS, which provides a quick questionnaire to help determine if you need to file a return this year. Whether you’re required to file a federal income tax return generally depends on a combination of your filing status, age and income.
State income taxes are separate from federal income taxes and vary depending on where you live and work. Many people need to file both federal and state income tax returns each year.
The overarching goal of the filing process—on both the state and federal level—is to make sure you’ve paid enough in income taxes. If you overpaid last year, the filing helps you get a refund, and if you underpaid, the filing determines how much you owe.
Ways to file your tax returns
Some people choose to go directly to the forms and navigate the math on their own with minimal guidance. Many IRS forms are available in “fillable” format for free, and there’s no charge to file your forms electronically directly on the IRS site or send them in via mail. Many states also offer free e-filing options. The forms come with line-by-line instructions—but for many, these instructions aren’t much help and can be quite confusing.
That’s why nearly half of taxpayers who filed federal income taxes in 2016 relied on tax software for extra help preparing their taxes, according to Nerd Wallet. Tax software is designed to ask you easy-to-answer questions, facilitate more accurate returns and simplify the process altogether.
Free tax software: 5 popular options
Getting extra help from tax preparation software doesn’t need to cost you any money. There are several popular software options that are completely free; however, not all filers are eligible for the free versions. If you’re self-employed or have income from a rental property, for example, you’ll likely have to pay for a software package.
Check out these 5 great options for free tax filing software:
- IRS – The IRS has its own program, called Free File, which matches filers with free software programs at no charge. If your adjusted gross income was $66,000 or less last year, the program will match you with one or more free software options for filing federal returns (and sometimes state returns, too).
- TurboTax Absolute Zero – With this TurboTax package, it costs $0 to file certain federal returns (Forms 1040EZ and 1040A) and state taxes. TurboTax is well-known for having an easy-to-use design and flow. You’ll have to pay, however, if you want one-on-one help from a specialist, audit assistance or other services.
- H&R Block More Zero – The free offering from H&R Block covers federal and state filings for Forms 1040EZ and 1040A. It’s also free for Form 1040 with Schedule A, which is great for taxpayers who itemize. You can import last year’s return from another software providers to get off to a quick start. In terms of support, the Tax Pro Review services is available for $49.99.
- TaxSlayer Simply Free – TaxSlayer software helps you file free federal and state tax returns. It comes with free live technical support via email and phone, but only works for Form 1040EZ. As with the other products, if you want tax support—not just technical support—you’ll have to pay for an upgrade.
- TaxAct Free – The TaxAct offering helps Form 1040EZ and 1040A filers with simple federal and state returns. The platform is known for a no-nonsense design. For a $15 fee, you can import your prior year’s information and access specialized tax support.
Bonus tip: Free budget tools
Whether you’re expecting to receive a refund or planning to make a payment, free budget tools can be an important part of your tax preparation toolkit. Check out this rundown of the best financial apps—including PocketGuard and Prism—and this compilation of free budget spreadsheets from Vertex42 and PearBudget.
RISE is also here to help you build better money habits. Check out our collection of free, interactive tools for setting savings goals and managing debt.