When it comes to filing your taxes, there are now a lot of free options that allow eligible low- and middle-income Americans to avoid expensive tax filing fees.
Most leading tax software providers provide options via the IRS’ free file program which provides free or discounted federal income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible (generally lower income) taxpayers.
And filing a tax return will allow you to claim applicable valuable government tax credits or stimulus checks for current and prior tax years.
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In fact the IRS has said that over 9 million taxpayers are eligible for free government money, which they not have claimed via filing a tax return (used to determine eligibility).
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that Free File will continue to be available for this year’s tax filing season from January 13th. You can use Free e-Filing (online tax software filing) if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $73,000 or less.
Note that participating tax software companies can set lower or higher AGI limits for using free file through their online service.
IRS Free File Program – Filing Your Taxes For Free
The IRS Free File Program is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and major tax software companies. It is generally open till the end of the extended tax season so if you don’t file a return before then you won’t be able to take advantage of the program.
Free online tax filing is only really free for those who file via approved providers of tax software and meet income based restrictions.
For the 2023 tax season, IRS Free File will open on January 13th. This is the date when approved tax providers will accept completed returns, and hold them until they can be filed with the IRS later in January.
Most electronic tax software provides guidance through the filing process via asking simple questions and putting your answers on the right forms. It does all the math and checks for accuracy before submitting your tax return.
Once your return is submitted and processed by the IRS, you should get your refund within 21 days. However be aware of potential IRS processing backlogs.
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Recommended free file providers
The following well-known companies (always go with established companies for your taxes!) support the IRS free file e-filing option, but if you want more sophisticated help or have a higher AGI then you may have to pay for filing the return, due to the extra guidance/forms you receive).
TurboTax Free Edition: Turbo tax is the most used tax software and in the years that I have used it, I found it very easy to use thanks to it’s excellent step-by-step program to guide you through filling in your tax return. Like any commercial package though, they will try to “up-sell ” you, so make sure you check the options you really need. Overall, this is the best option for for simple tax returns only.
E-file Online Free Edition: E-file has one of the highest AGI income limits for free filing and a decent step-by-step guide for users, though not as user friendly and intuitive as other tax software filing options. You can also import last year’s tax data from Turbo Tax and certain other software packages.
Also remember to try and get your refund payment via Direct Deposit, which the IRS’s recommends as the fastest and most secure method. You can sign-up for free online banking services like Chime to get a bank account, where you can get your IRS refund directly deposited into as soon as the day it is approved.
Other providers participating in the 2023 IRS Free File program include:
Manually Filed Paper Returns (no income limit)
Manual Free File Fillable Forms – Unlike the above software options which have an income eligibility to file a free return, if you go with the manual option there won’t be any income limitations.
You will need to manually fill in the paper tax forms, check/validate your own numbers and file them online without tax software.
Just be prepared that by choosing to manually self-prepare, and e-file your 1040, 1040 A and/or 1040EZ return, you could face extended processing and refund payment delays. Particularly if your submissions has mistakes or requires additional checks by the IRS.
This is why it is recommended to file your return electronically for the highest accuracy and to choose direct deposit for getting your refund in the fastest manner.
Free Tax Preparation Support
The IRS also offers free online tax filing support and guidance via the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers. This service is offered free of charge for those who make $60,000 or less and persons with disabilities. The VITA program is staffed by IRS-certified volunteers.
In addition to VITA, the Tax Counselling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.
While filing your tax returns for free is a great option for those with lower incomes and simpler tax situations, what you are really paying the tax software providers is for the online assistance guiding you through the process for figuring your taxes and getting the largest refund possible.
You also get audit support if any issues are found with your filing – for an extra fee off course if not due to the tax software provider calculations. Given the premium advice and tips you can get from most tax software, the cost of the additional options is more than offset by the larger refund you will likely get.
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics
A Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) is an organization that assists low-income individuals in resolving tax disputes with the IRS. They also provide information and education about taxpayer rights to those who speak English as a second language (ESL).
LITC services are typically offered at no cost or for a minimal fee for taxpayer’s whose income is usually less than $50,000 or 250% of federal poverty guidelines.
To determine if you meet the necessary income guidelines and other criteria to receive assistance from an LITC, you should contact your local clinic. To find an LITC near you and learn more about the qualifications, visit the IRS LITC page
While supporting low-income or financially pressured tax payers, LITCs are independent from the IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).