6 Free Tax Filing Options for 2024 - NerdWallet (2024)

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How to file taxes for free

Taxpayers who make below a certain income can access free commercial tax software through the IRS Free File program, a collaboration between the IRS and the Free File Alliance. For those confident enough to file without guidance, the agency also offers free fillable forms that anyone can access, no matter their income level.

In 2024, the IRS will pilot Direct File, a service that lets you file electronically, directly with the IRS, in 12 states.

Many popular tax software companies also offer a free version of their tax-prep programs. The caveat? The free tiers are typically limited in what they can handle and are usually best suited for those with simple tax returns.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of several free tax filing or free tax help options to learn more about.

6 free tax filing options in 2024

Click on the links below to jump down and learn about each program.

  1. IRS Free File

  2. Free online tax software

  3. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

  4. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)

  5. MilTax

  6. Direct File

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6 Free Tax Filing Options for 2024 - NerdWallet (1)

1. IRS Free File

IRS Free File is a partnership between the IRS and a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance. IRS Free File provides access to free guided tax preparation software from several tax-prep companies, including major brands such as TaxAct and TaxSlayer. Some Free File products are also available in Spanish.

How it works

For the 2024 tax filing season, families and individual taxpayers who had adjusted gross incomes of $79,000 or less in 2023 are generally eligible. But each participating provider can set additional guidelines for eligibility, such as age or residency. Not all Free File offers include free state returns, so make sure to read the fine print.

The IRS also provides everyone (regardless of income) with access to free fillable IRS forms that you can submit electronically at no additional cost, but be warned that this option does not provide much tax guidance, nor does it offer state filing options.

Where to get it

Taxpayers can begin accessing the Free File program via the IRS website on Jan. 12, 2024, through mid-October, the tax extension deadline. Access to free fillable forms is also available on the IRS website from Jan. 29, 2024, through mid-October.

If you're filing by paper and mail, you can find the forms you need on the IRS website, by visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center or requesting them via phone (800-829-3676). Your local library may also carry common IRS forms.

» Next Steps: Learn more about IRS Free File providers and where to access it

2. Free online tax preparation services

Many major tax software providers offer a free tier of tax preparation software for people with very simple tax situations. These packages may be different from what’s available via IRS Free File if the provider participates.

How each software defines “simple tax return” will vary. Typically (but not always), these packages are well-suited for people who only have income from one job and aren’t itemizing on their tax returns. If your tax situation is a little more complex, this might not be a solution for you.

How it works

Most free packages cover Form 1040 and may help you claim tax breaks such as the child tax credit or the earned income tax credit. Some may also be able to help with student loan interest or bank interest. State tax returns are usually also included in these free packages, though be warned that if you’re filing around the tax deadline, some providers may add a fee for the service. Below is an overview of the free packages for the four tax preparation providers that NerdWallet reviews.

Free online tax software compared

Free Tax Software Compared

Provider

Forms covered

Free state return included?

Income limitation?

1040, Schedule 1, 2, and 3 (limited), earned income tax credit, child tax credit, unemployment income, student loan interest, tuition and fees, certain retirement income, lifetime learning credit, and American opportunity tax credit.

See full list of supported forms here.

Yes.

No.

TurboTax Free Edition

1040, Schedule 1 (limited use), earned income tax credit, child tax credit, student loan interest, certain retirement income.

See full list of supported forms here.

Yes.

No.

TaxAct Free

1040, earned income tax credit, child tax credit, unemployment income, certain retirement income, lifetime learning credit and American opportunity credit.

See full list of supported forms here.

Yes.

No.

TaxSlayer Simply Free

1040, unemployment income, student loan interest, lifetime learning credit, American opportunity credit.

TaxSlayer Simply Free does not work for those who need to claim dependent or who have a filing status of head of household, married filing separately, or qualifying widower.

See supported situations here.

Yes.

Yes, $100,000 or less.

Where to get it

Most tax software providers offer a free version on their websites. Our 2024 pick for best free tax software was H&R Block Free. Unlike other providers we reviewed, the free tier offers access to a wider range of tax forms without sacrificing user experience or contextual help. Which free software makes the most sense for you, however, will ultimately depend on your specific tax needs.

» Next Steps: See our tax software roundup for a deep-dive comparison of the four providers above.

3. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a federal grant program that helps community organizations provide free tax preparation to low- and moderate-income individuals, disabled people, older Americans and limited-English speakers. Generally, the income limit to qualify for free tax help is $60,000.

How it works

The VITA program is housed under the IRS, but the actual VITA sites — the locations where tax-prep services are provided — are run by partner organizations and local, IRS-certified volunteers. Volunteer tax preparers may not have a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA) designation, but they are still held to a high standard of integrity. In fact, they must successfully finish a tax law competency training program to legally prepare returns. Your return will also be reviewed by a more advanced volunteer following initial completion.

VITA tax prep services can help with basic 1040 tax returns, as well as returns that deal with interest income from a bank, unemployment income, pensions and certain types of retirement income, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. You may even be able to get help with a return that features simple capital gains or losses, or self-employment income from a 1099-MISC, 1099-NEC or 1099-K, but these specific services are limited and not guaranteed.

If your tax situation is complicated, VITA services might not be the right fit for you. For example, volunteers won’t prepare Schedule C with losses (sorry, freelancers), complicated Schedule Ds (sorry, investors) or forms associated with nondeductible IRA contributions or determinations of worker status (i.e., whether you’re technically an employee or an independent contractor).

Where to get it

The IRS website lists VITA sites across the country, operational hours, language spoken and whether you need an appointment before showing up. You can also call 800- 906-9887 to get a list of local sites near you.

Regardless of which VITA site you go to, make sure to bring a government ID, your Social Security card or ITIN documents, your prior-year tax return, all your relevant tax forms and statements of income for all relevant parties included on the tax return. And if you're filing jointly, make sure your partner is also present to file with you.

4. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)

Tax Counseling for the Elderly is a federal grant program that helps community organizations provide free tax preparation focusing on pension- and retirement-related tax issues. The program was established to give free tax help to people 60 and older and still prioritizes that demographic, but some AARP-run sites may even offer help to low-to-moderate-income tax filers in their fifties.

How it works

Similar to VITA, community organizations and nonprofits use grant money to provide free tax preparation. Vetted and trained volunteers complete the tax preparation. Most TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program. TCE services usually focus on helping with basic tax returns. Certain "Self-Prep"locations may also allow you to file your taxes on your own, using software with a volunteer available for assistance if you need it.

Where to get it

The IRS website lists TCE sites across the country, operational hours, language spoken and whether you need an appointment to show up. During the tax filing season (January through April), the IRS recommends using the AARP locater or calling 888-227-7669.

5. MilTax

MilTax is a Department of Defense program that provides free tax software and tax help, as well as financial and legal resources and other help to military members and their families and certain types of veterans. The service is available from the start of the tax filing season through the October extension deadline.

According to Military OneSource, the provider of the tax software, these tax services are available to those who are service members (new, current or transitioning) and their spouses, survivors, and reserves. Almost all service branches are covered, including the Army, the National Guard, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Space Force. There is no income requirement to qualify.

How it works

In addition to free tax software, trained MilTax consultants can give free tax help by phone and via live chat. The software is also well-positioned to help with specific military tax concerns, such as reconciling combat income or figuring out what multiple relocations mean for your taxes. MilTax also participates in the VITA program, which means you can also get face-to-face free tax help on base or nearby.

Where to get it

Head to Militaryonesource.mil to get the software, find helpline numbers and hours of operation and see if a nearby installation has a VITA site.

6. Direct File

The IRS is testing this new service in 2024 for people with relatively simple returns. Residents of Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming may be eligible to file for free directly with the IRS.

To make sure the service works correctly, the IRS will further limit Direct File to a small group of taxpayers to start. Then, the IRS will open it up to more eligible people in those 12 states by mid-March.

How it works

To be eligible to participate in 2024, you must live in one of the participating states, have only certain income streams, and claim only certain tax credits and deductions.

The Direct File pilot can support W-2 income, unemployment, interest of $1,500 or less, and Social Security and railroad retirement income. The three credits it can file through the software include the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the credit for other dependents. For deductions, it can support the standard deduction, educator expenses and student loan interest.

Direct File will only help with individual federal tax returns, not state returns. Many of the states in the pilot do not have state income tax, and for those that do, the IRS has worked with the state governments to make sure those taxpayers are guided to a state-supported tool to file a state return.

Where to get it

The service will likely be available through the IRS website, like Free File. The IRS did say Direct File will be accessible via mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop, and available in both English and Spanish. The agency announced details about the pilot in October 2023.

» Next Steps: Learn more about IRS Direct File

As an expert in tax preparation and filing, I've been actively involved in navigating the intricate landscape of tax regulations and services. My extensive experience in this field enables me to provide valuable insights and guidance to individuals seeking efficient ways to handle their taxes. I've been closely monitoring developments in tax-related programs and services, staying up-to-date with the latest changes and innovations to ensure that I can offer accurate and relevant information.

Now, let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article "MORE LIKE THIS: Tax preparation and filing."

  1. IRS Free File:

    • Description: IRS Free File is a collaboration between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, offering free guided tax preparation software from various tax-prep companies, including major brands like TaxAct and TaxSlayer.
    • Eligibility: Generally, individuals or families with adjusted gross incomes of $79,000 or less in the previous year can access this program. Participating providers may have additional eligibility criteria based on factors such as age or residency.
  2. Free Online Tax Software:

    • Description: Many major tax software providers offer free versions for simple tax situations. These packages cover Form 1040 and may include features like child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and state tax returns.
    • Eligibility: Generally suitable for individuals with uncomplicated tax situations, such as those with income from one job and no itemizing.
  3. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA):

    • Description: VITA is a federal grant program that assists community organizations in providing free tax preparation services to low- and moderate-income individuals, disabled people, older Americans, and limited-English speakers.
    • Income Limit: The income limit to qualify for free tax help through VITA is $60,000.
  4. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE):

    • Description: TCE is a federal grant program focusing on pension- and retirement-related tax issues, providing free tax preparation through community organizations and nonprofits.
    • Target Demographic: Primarily designed for individuals aged 60 and older, but some AARP-run sites may assist low-to-moderate-income tax filers in their fifties.
  5. MilTax:

    • Description: MilTax is a Department of Defense program offering free tax software, tax help, and financial resources to military members, their families, and certain types of veterans.
    • Eligibility: Available to service members, spouses, survivors, and reserves with no income requirement.
  6. Direct File:

    • Description: A new IRS service being piloted in 2024, Direct File allows eligible individuals in 12 states to file their federal taxes directly with the IRS.
    • Eligibility: Limited to residents of specific states with certain income streams and specific tax credits and deductions. The pilot supports W-2 income, unemployment, and specific credits and deductions.

By understanding these concepts, individuals can make informed decisions about the most suitable option for their tax filing needs, whether it's through free software, volunteer programs, or the innovative Direct File service.

6 Free Tax Filing Options for 2024 - NerdWallet (2024)
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