It's not just false advertising. You really can file your taxes for free. Thanks to tools from the IRS, tax preparers, and the time of nearly 100,000 volunteers, there are a number of free ways to to file your taxes online (and offline) in 2017. But where you should go depends on your income, age, tax status, and the complexity of your federal and state tax filings.
Here are several ways to file your taxes that are truly and completely free to use.
1. IRS Free File software and fillable forms
Filers with adjusted gross incomes of $64,000 or less can make use of the IRS's list of free filing software linked from its website. The IRS has arranged for free use of 12 popular preparing services that include familiar names such as TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct, subject to some simple limitations.
In general, filers must meet one of the following criteria to use the IRS Free File:
- Earn less than $64,000 in adjusted gross income.
- Qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Earn an income as an active duty member of the U.S. military.
Importantly, not all services are created equal. Some offer completely free federal and state returns, while some preparers only offer free federal returns. Save time by using the Look Up Tool to find the best completely free software for you based on your income, age, and the state in which you reside.
If you earn more than the $64,000 limit, the IRS has a solution. Its Fillable Forms tool allows you to complete common tax forms including the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ electronically (see all the forms here). It's completely free, the only caveat being that it won't help you with your state taxes, and it assumes you have some familiarity with paper tax forms.
2. Local help by IRS volunteers
In the 2015 tax year, volunteers around the country helped file more than 3.7 million tax returns through the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
VITA provides free tax help to people who earn less than $54,000, or who have disabilities or limited English speaking abilities. Elderly filers can get help through the TCE program, which is specifically designed for people who are 60 years of age or older. TCE specializes in tax issues related to retirement, pensions, Social Security, or other retirement-age tax concerns, making it a great resource for new and longtime retirees.
See if there is a VITA or TCE site near you by entering your ZIP code on the IRS website. (Note: VITA and TCE tax centers usually begin popping up around the country closer to the filing deadline, which is April 18, 2017.)
3. CreditKarma for all incomes
The site known for free access to your credit score wants to help you prepare your taxes, too. The 2016 tax year will be the program's first year, but CreditKarma has promised to file individual tax returns completely free, offering full federal and state tax forms without income limitations.
The only downside is that it won't work for everyone, particularly those with trickier tax filings. You can't use it to file multiple state returns, or to file your state taxes independently of your federal taxes, for example. Here's a complete list of tax forms it supports, and forms or situations it doesn't support.
Given this is the company's first play at the tax preparation game, it's too early to say exactly what its service will look like. Much like its free credit score product, CreditKarma hopes that offering a free tax solution will enable it to collect information to better target its users with advertisements for credit cards or mortgages, for example. That's a pretty small price to pay for a free way to file a state and federal tax return electronically.