The 6 Best Free Tax Software Programs to Use Right Now

You don't have to spend a fortune to get your taxes done.

Taxpayers filing their 2018 taxes in 2019 will notice an abundance of changes, including a new 1040 form that replaces the previous 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 forms. The elimination of personal and dependent exemptions and the increase of the standard deduction and child tax credit are just a few additional changes you’ll come across when you go to file your taxes. Instead of trying to navigate all the new tax laws on your own, you can take advantage of free tax preparation online via a reputable software program.

Below are the top six best free online tax software programs that will guide you through all the new changes, so you get the best outcome possible.

1. IRS Free File

The IRS and the Free File Alliance joined forces to offer the Free File service to taxpayers at no cost. A few of the IRS Free File program’s well-known software preparation partners include H&R Block, TurboTax, TaxAct, eSmart and TaxSlayer. There’s even a handy Free File Software Lookup Tool on the IRS’ website that will help you choose the program that is best for your age, income and state residence.

Benefits:

  • Free to file all federal returns
  • Available for filers making less than $66,000
  • Partners with 14 brand-name tax preparation software companies
  • Uses the latest in secure technology
  • Select locations have programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) for additional free tax help
  • Each of the software company partners provides complimentary customer service if you get stuck

Drawbacks:

  • Filers who make over $66,000 must print and mail their returns
  • There are still 23 states where you will need to pay to file state taxes
  • Might still have to put up with annoying upgrade ads from the partner company
  • Not all partnering software companies are mobile-friendly

2. TurboTax Free Edition

TurboTax is consistently voted No. 1 by users as the best online tax software because of its simple interface that makes filing taxes a breeze. In addition to the many benefits that come standard with free tax software, TurboTax also offers free audit guidance from a tax professional, though the company claims that audits with its software are less than 1 percent. Users will also appreciate learning more about their financial health with the complimentary Turbo feature, which supplies your income, credit score and debt-to-income ratio, as well as explanations and personalized advice on each. Taxpayers looking to upgrade their version of the software can find the following paid TurboTax versions available: Deluxe for $39.99, Premier for $59.99 and Self-Employed for $89.99.

Benefits:

  • Available in English and Spanish
  • Free federal and state filing for simple returns
  • Free data import
  • Built-in security measures protect your personal information
  • Ability to snap a photo of your W-2 instead of inputting the numbers manually
  • Ability to scan your driver’s license bar code
  • Step-by-step guidance so you don’t miss any important deductions or credits
  • TurboTax specialists are available 24/7 online for assistance
  • CompleteCheck double-checks the return for any mistakes or missing information

Drawbacks:

  • If your taxes require the use of any schedules, you won’t be able to file for free
  • Large number of upsell ads for products, such as ID theft protection
  • Refund advances are only offered to select customers and for a limited period of time

Learn: 30 Ways to Prevent a Tax Audit

3. H&R Block Free Edition

H&R Block stands behind its tax preparation software with maximum refund, audit support and 100 percent accuracy guarantees. Although it might not be as easy to use as TurboTax, it is still an excellent choice for taxpayers who wish to complete their own returns with a little guidance from an online software program. Users who don’t meet the qualifications for free filing can buy the Deluxe version for $29.99. The state fee with this upgraded version is $36.99. Also available are the following versions: Premium for $49.99, Self-Employed for $79.99 and Tax Pro Review for $119.99. If you decide to meet with one of H&R Block’s tax professionals to have your taxes done, you’ll be able to request a refund advance of up to $3,000.

Benefits:

  • Free federal and state filing if qualifications are met
  • Complimentary income tax calculator
  • Auto-fill with a picture of your W-2
  • Complimentary online technical support via chat
  • Help center for answers to common tax questions
  • Easy data transfer by dragging and dropping your previous return
  • Step-by-step guidance through the entire return
  • Refund reveal box stays in the upper left-hand corner
  • Data security with multiple layers of protection
  • Final accuracy check performed before submitting the return

Drawbacks:

  • Doesn’t offer explanations of various terms like its competitors do
  • There’s a learning curve to using the navigation tabs

Deep Dive: H&R Block Tax Software Free and Paid Options Review

4. Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma is one of the best free tax filing programs, as it allows for filing basic and more complex federal and state returns. Unfortunately, since several forms are not supported, there are a number of filers who won’t be able to use the service. Taxpayers who can use the filing program will need to be comfortable signing up for Credit Karma’s typical service, which does require inputting your Social Security number. The service provides free credit reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus, along with weekly credit score updates. Users will also receive credit monitoring, access to financial calculators and educational articles and product promotions based on the information found in the credit reports.

Benefits:

  • File your taxes for free with no upsells ever
  • Maximum refund guarantee
  • Accurate calculations guarantee
  • Complimentary audit defense from Tax Protection Plus
  • Jump-start feature allows you to upload your W-2 with a quick picture
  • Live chat and online help center to answer any tax questions
  • Reviews all of your information for errors before you submit

Drawbacks:

  • No drag-and-drop option for previous tax returns
  • You must sign up for Credit Karma before you can file taxes
  • Navigating from one content area to another can be a challenge
  • Doesn’t support all forms (such as forms 2210 and 8885)

Credit Karma Tax Review: Free Option for Simple Taxes

5. TaxAct Free Edition

TaxAct has an additional feature that benefits college students. The program’s FAFSA assistance section gives college students a worksheet to complete. They can then print out the worksheet and use it to fill out their student aid forms. Taxpayers unable to file using the free version, as it is limited to individuals with a W-2 and no dependents, can buy one of the following versions: Basic for $9.95, Deluxe for $29.95, Premier for $39.95 and Self-Employed for $59.95. State returns are not included in these packages.

Benefits:

  • Free federal filing with no dependents
  • Can import PDF files from other programs (H&R Block and TurboTax)
  • Customer service options include online chat, telephone and email
  • One hundred percent accuracy guarantee that is backed by $100,000
  • Maximum refund guarantee
  • Access your return for up to seven years after you file
  • State-of-the-art security to keep sensitive info safe
  • Alerts that check your return for mistakes to reduce your audit risk
  • TaxAct Bookmarks allow you to easily navigate through the program

Drawbacks:

  • State filing isn’t free
  • Only the simplest filers can use the free federal version
  • Doesn’t give the option to apply a portion of your refund toward next year’s taxes

TaxAct Review: Which Tax Filing Option Suits You Best?

6. eSmart Tax

eSmart Tax is only free for filers with W-2s. If your return is more complex, you can upgrade to Basic for $34.95, Deluxe for $45.95 or Premium for $59.95. There’s also the option to purchase Professional Audit Support or the Smart Bundle, which includes professional audit support and adds printed and bound copies as well as five years of safekeeping. Since eSmart’s tax software is a little less user-friendly with minimal guidance, it’s a better option for taxpayers who are comfortable and knowledgeable enough to do their own taxes.

Benefits:

  • Free federal filing for simple returns
  • Free state filing for certain states
  • Free live support via chat
  • Ability to import previous tax returns
  • Ability to electronically import W-2 forms
  • Credit Maximizer to make sure you get all the credits and deductions you qualify for
  • Satisfaction, calculations and biggest refund guarantees

Drawbacks:

  • No telephone or expert support if you get stuck
  • States that aren’t free cost $19.95 to prepare and e-file
  • Platform is a little more difficult to use than other programs
  • Built-in calculators have limited function
  • Lacks knowledge-based articles to understand certain types of tax jargon

Click through to see if you should ever throw away your tax records.

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About the Author

Alicia Bodine is a New Jersey-based writer specializing in finance, travel, gardening and education. With more than 13 years of experience, her work has appeared in Chron.com, Livestrong, eHow, USA TODAY, GlobalPost, Education.com and wiseGEEK.