This article was last updated on April 17
[2020 Update] Most Americans will need to file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 tax return to get the 2020 stimulus check. The IRS has advised that those who haven’t filed a tax return yet and are required to or plan to file a Form 1040, should NOT use the IRS payment information portal. That is for those with lower incomes (less than $12,200 for singles or $24,000 for married). People required to file for 2019 can use other Free File options shown below.
When it comes to filing your taxes, there are a lot of free options that allow eligible tax payers to avoid expensive filing fees. A number of leading tax software providers provide free e-filing options via the IRS’ free file program which provides free federal income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible (generally lower income) taxpayers. The IRS Free File Program is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and 13 major tax software companies.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that Free File will continue to be available for this year’s tax filing season. You can use Free e-Filing (online tax software filing) if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $69,000 or less. Note that participating tax software companies can set lower or higher AGI limits for using free file through their online service.
Free Tax Filing via Electronic Software is only really free for those who file via approved providers of tax software and meet certain income based restrictions. Most tax software provides guidance through the filing process via asking simple questions and putting your answers on the right forms. If does all the math and checks for accuracy. You normally get your refund within 21 days. 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 most online tax filers in my opinion.
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.
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. That is. you choose, self-prepare, and e-file your 1040, 1040 A and/or 1040EZ return.
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 $54,000 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.