Software that prepares taxes free of charge does exist if you search for it. Who hasn’t heard horror stories about how difficult, time-consuming and even expensive it is to prepare an income tax return. The horror can be real if your financial situation is complicated. However, if you don’t own several homes or businesses, don’t have a portfolio that generates a substantial amount of your income or a lot of capital gains or losses, and aren’t a Wall Street tycoon, your taxes could be as simple as a one- or two-page return (the 1040A or 1040EZ form).
If that’s the case, you can probably do your state and federal income taxes on your own, online, absolutely free. The following companies offer free preparation and e-filing services that should make your tax season, if not painless, relatively easy.
TurboTax is one of the best known of the automated tax-prep services, partly because of the massive amount of marketing dollars poured into it by its maker, Intuit. Still, the software doesn’t disappoint. TurboTax calls its free tax prep Absolute Zero. If you made less than $100,000 in 2018; don’t own a home or rental property; have just one employer and no interest, business-related or other Form 1099 income; and incurred no major medical expenses, you can complete your 1040EZ/A on TurboTax for exactly zero.
Most people will qualify to file their federal and state returns at absolutely no cost.
TaxAct is another well-known tax-prep package that offers a free service for people whose finances are simple enough to require only a 1040EZ/A form. You’ll pay no fee to prepare and electronically file your taxes, though it will cost you $15 to import your last year’s taxes. With a redesigned mobile app, you can start and finish your return, and file it, on any device. Beyond your taxes, if you’re a student or the parent of one, TaxAct can even help you prepare Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) assistance forms.
You’ve likely heard of this national accounting chain, which has walk-in operations. Thanks to a service called More Zero, those people who qualify can prepare their taxes at no cost. Its notable selling point is that it can accommodate you even if you file Form 1040 and itemize your deductions on Schedule A. H&R Block also offers free e-filing of federal and state returns and help with commonly asked questions. In addition, all H&R Block online products allow people to claim their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) without incurring any additional costs.
Although not as well known, TaxSlayer is well liked by people who use it. The company offers a free return service for those filing Form 1040 EZ that includes live phone support as well as free e-mail support. And your state tax return is also free.
Of its nearly 6,000 locations, Jackson Hewitt has approximately 3,000 of them inside Walmart stores to make it easier for taxpayers to prepare their returns. You can prepare your simple tax return for free on its website both federal and state returns. It allows you to import your W-2 forms, assuming your employer participates in automated download programs. As long as you don’t have complicated deductions or sources of income, you won’t pay anything.
The Internal Revenue Service isn’t well known for its caring side or for offering advice. However, if you make $54,000 or less, have a disability or speak little English, you may qualify for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The IRS also has a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program for people age 60 and older. Both the VITA and TCE programs operate in community and neighborhood centers, such as libraries, schools and, shopping malls. Some sites allow you to prepare your return electronically, while others are staffed by volunteers.
The Bottom Line
Why would companies offer free e-filing services? Because they know that forming a relationship with you, even if they don’t make any money from you this year, is valuable. If your tax situation becomes more complex, you might turn to them for more costly services down the road. You might even do that this year, should complications arise. (For more, see H&R Block vs. Turbo Tax vs. Jackson Hewitt.)
These free services have their limitations, of course. For the most part, they’re for taxpayers who only have to do the 1040EZ or 1040A paperwork. However, if your return is that simple, there’s no reason you should pay to file this year. Just be sure, whichever firm you choose, to be careful with your sensitive data (see How to Safeguard Your Tax Returns From Identity Theft).