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How to file your taxes online for free

IRS.gov don't cost a thing.

Man sitting at desk in home office with laptop and paperwork Credit: Getty Images / fizkes

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At this very moment, with tighter budgets all around, you may be on the hunt for a free way to file your 2020 taxes.

The good news: 70% of Americans can file for free, according to the IRS. Despite this, maybe you’re unclear on who exactly qualifies. Or you have frustrating memories of starting a free program, only to get switched to another product midway through the process.

Not to worry, we break down whether there’s a free option for you—and have recommendations for the best tax software to use if you do need to pay for a DIY product.

Who is eligible for the IRS Free File program?

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2020 is $72,000 or less, you may be eligible to file your federal taxes for free with the IRS Free File program. Several big-name tax companies participate in the program, however, each sets its own income and age limits. And depending on the platform, you may be charged for filing your state return. Access these programs by visiting the IRS website, not through the private company, to ensure you’re using the correct product.

Here are a few of the best tax software platforms we’ve reviewed that have partnered with the IRS, and the requirements for the 2020 tax season.

TurboTax

  • AGI: $39,000 or less
  • Age: Any
  • State: Free

TaxAct

  • AGI: $63,000 or less
  • Age: 56 or younger, unless you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • State: Free

TaxSlayer

  • AGI: $72,000 or less
  • Age: 51 or younger, unless you qualify for the EITC
  • State: Free for AR, AZ, DC, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NY, OR, RI, SC, VA, VT, and WV

What’s your adjusted gross income?

w2 form
Credit: Getty Images / Darren415

An online tax software will calculate your adjusted gross income (AGI) for you.

The IRS uses this figure to determine how much you’ll be taxed—and it’s different from your take-home pay. Yes, it includes your salary and wages, but it also figures in retirement distributions, business profits, and other sources of income. That number is then adjusted based on a few factors, like whether you paid student loan interest, had educator expenses, or contributed to a retirement plan.

When using online tax software, the platform will make these calculations for you. Keep in mind that If you’re filing your taxes jointly, the $72,000 cap applies to you and your spouse’s combined AGI.

What’s the Earned Income Tax Credit?

The EITC is for taxpayers with lower to moderate incomes. Among a few other basic qualifying rules, the maximum AGI ranges from $15,820 to $56,844 depending on your filing status and number of dependents.

While there are special cases for military members, clergy members, and filers with disabilities, you’ll be ineligible for this credit if you’re married and filing separately.

Can you file your taxes for free if your AGI is greater than $72,000?

Woman
Credit: Getty Images / Ridofranz

Look into TurboTax Free Edition, H&R Block Free Online, or another platform if your AGI is above the IRS cap.

Most tax companies offer free versions that are separate from the IRS-sponsored program, meaning even if your AGI in 2020 is greater than $72,000, it may be possible to e-file using an unpaid tier of TurboTax, H&R Block, or another platform.

In a nutshell, it all comes down to what forms you need to submit. Those with a simple return—typically W-2s or unemployment income—who opt for a standardized deduction are a safe bet.

However, those planning on certain itemized deductions, such as student loan interest, may be prompted to use a paid version depending on the company. Expect to hire a tax pro or pay for DIY software if you have rental income, business expenses, or other investments.

Here’s a closer look at our top two tax software programs and whether those free versions may work for you.

TurboTax Free Edition

Unlike its IRS Free File program, TurboTax’s Free Edition does not have gross income limits. This free version supports the standard deduction and a number of tax forms, such as Schedule EIC. You’ll notice that it does not support forms for things such as adoption expenses, health savings accounts (HSA), or mortgage interest. For those, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid tier, which starts at $60 at the time of publishing, plus any state return fees.

H&R Block Free Online

H&R Block’s Free Online version is more extensive. Again, there are no income limits, but unlike TurboTax, you can report student loan interest and tuition costs free of charge. Those with an HSA, mortgage interest, rental properties, or other business expenses still need to opt for one of other programs. As of this publishing, prices range from to $23.99 to $67.99, plus an additional $36.99 for state returns.

What are your other options to file for free?

  • You also have the option to file with Credit Karma, which does not charge a fee whether your tax situation is simple or complex. You may be paying in other ways though, as the company—like most these days—mines your personal data for other uses.

  • The IRS also offers its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) services for individuals who need guidance to complete their returns. The income cap is around $57,000, though there are a few other markers for eligibility.

  • Your local library can not only help you cut down on your book-buying budget—it may also lend a hand come tax season. Check your nearby branch for free forms and other assistance.

  • Serve in the military? You can use the IRS Free File program with TurboTax, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer to complete federal taxes no matter your AGI, though this isn’t the case with all of the partners.

  • Lastly, you can wade through line by line yourself with the Free Fillable Forms on the IRS website.

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