Preparing and filing taxes can be expensive, but free or cheap options are available to most Americans. Low- to middle-income earners may even qualify for free in-person help from volunteers trained by the Internal Revenue Service. Here are 11 tax preparation and filing services for frugal taxpayers.
The result of a partnership between the IRS and private tax software companies, the Free File program provides access to free online software for tax filers with adjusted gross income of $66,000 or less. Users can choose from more than a dozen options, including software from big names such as H&R Block and TurboTax, although some have age or residency restrictions or lower income requirements. All the Free File software includes free preparation and efiling of federal returns, but state preparation and filing may come at an extra charge.
VOLUNTEER INCOME TAX ASSISTANCE
The VITA program offers free in-person help from IRS-trained volunteers for taxpayers who made $55,000 or less in 2018, as well as those with disabilities or limited English skills. Enter your ZIP code in the locator tool to find the nearest tax preparation site (often a library, university, or community center).
TAX COUNSELING FOR THE ELDERLY
The TCE program is similar to the VITA program but designed specifically for older taxpayers. Americans 60 or older can get help from volunteers, who are often retirees. The volunteers get special training on issues particular to older taxpayers, such as dealing with pension- or retirement-related tax forms.
LOCALLY SPONSORED ASSISTANCE
Check with state and local organizations to see if additional assistance options are available. For example, the New York City Food Bank offers free help to taxpayers with dependents who made $55,000 or less in 2018 and those without dependents who made no more than $30,000. There are preparation sites in four of the five boroughs.
The United Way and H&R Block offer free tax preparation and filing for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $66,000 or less, including point them to valid tax credits and deductions. There are no age or residency requirements, and self-employed and contract workers can use the MyFreeTaxes software. It also works for homeowners, students, business owners, and investors.
Active-duty military members can find free or discounted online tax preparation services from H&R Block and TaxSlayer, as well as special VITA sites on military bases with volunteers trained to deal with military-related tax issues. Free MilTax software, created specifically for military families, is available on Military OneSource.
TURBOTAX FREE EDITION
In addition to its Free File software partnership with the IRS, TurboTax offers free software to taxpayers with simple tax returns. The TurboTax Free Edition lets users claim the Earned Income Credit, if they're eligible, and efile federal and state returns for free. But the software cannot account for contract or self-employment income, ownership of a home or rental property, or itemized deductions.
TaxAct also has a free version, which includes free federal and state filing and unlimited access to tax support personnel. While it can handle interest income and the EIC, investors, business owners, and taxpayers who itemize deductions may have to opt for a paid version.
H&R Block offers free filing for taxpayers with simple tax situations. Federal and state efiling are free. Taxpayers can use it to claim the EIC and child tax credit. It can also be used with Social Security and retirement plan income.
CREDIT KARMA TAX
Credit Karma's tax software includes free federal and state filing and covers homeowners, landlords, and taxpayers who are self-employed, itemize deductions, and have investment income. It doesn't support every situation, though. For example, it is not recommended for active investors who may need to mention many short-term trades or for real estate investors with numerous properties.