Tax software can alert you to money-saving tax deductions and credits, help you avoid costly errors, and file your tax returns electronically, which will reduce the wait for your refund. But depending on the complexity of your return, a tax software program can cost you $100 or more. Before you shell out any money, though, find out whether you can file your federal tax return—and in some cases, your state tax return, too—for free.
If you had adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less in 2021, you can prepare and e-file your federal tax return for free through IRS Free File, even if your return is complex. Each Free File participant is permitted to impose its own criteria. To find a program, go to the IRS Free File Online Options webpage.
If you don’t qualify for IRS Free File but have a fairly straightforward return, consider Free File Fillable Forms. This program allows you to fill out your tax return electronically and either e-file it or print it and mail it in. The program will do the math but does not offer guidance or advice. The free fillable forms are also on the IRS website.
Some tax software providers also offer free programs, but make sure you qualify before you start plugging in your numbers. For example, you can use TurboTax Free Edition* if you had wages from a job (W-2 income) and limited interest and dividend income, but if you received unemployment benefits or had a health savings account, you must upgrade to TurboTax Deluxe ($39 at press time for a federal tax return). H&R Block’s free online version allows users to report unemployment income, but if you had a health savings account last year, you must upgrade to H&R Block Deluxe ($29.99 at press time for a federal tax return).
FreeTaxUSA will prepare even complex federal tax returns for free. The company makes money by charging to file your state tax return, but the cost is reasonable—$14.99 for each state tax return.
Credit Karma Tax, which offered free federal and state tax programs, was acquired by Square, a financial technology company that developed Cash App, a mobile payment service, in late 2020. The program is still free, but you’ll be asked early on if you want to sync your tax and Cash App data. The company makes money by recommending products from affiliates. You can opt out of this information-sharing request.
TurboTax Free Edition is for simple tax returns only. Not all taxpayers qualify.
Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.