5 Best Free Tax Software Options To Use Right Now

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With the upcoming arrival of the filing deadline for 2021 tax returns, which falls on April 18 this year for most taxpayers, you might find yourself wondering which of the many tax software options out there is the best one for you. Although all taxpayers must file a return and pay what they owe, there’s no reason to navigate those complicated forms and confusing tax laws alone.

Here’s a look at the five best free tax software options online that you can use right now to help you achieve the best outcome possible.

IRS Free File

When choosing free tax software, why not go right to the source? The IRS Free File program provides taxpayers with state-of-the-art tax preparation software through an organization called the Free File Alliance. A number of commercial software companies are members of the alliance, including TaxAct and TaxSlayer.

Every year, millions of taxpayers use Free File to quickly, safely and accurately complete their returns. Filers with incomes of $73,000 and below can take advantage of the guided tax preparation option and file a federal return electronically for free via an IRS partner site.

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The only Free File option available to those with incomes over $73,000 is Free File Fillable Forms, which is open to taxpayers of all income levels. With Free File Fillable Forms, you’ll get access to federal tax forms, which you can file electronically for free, but you won’t have access to a state tax return option. Before choosing Free File Fillable Forms, keep in mind that the IRS notes that you should do so only if you’re comfortable preparing your own taxes, as you won’t get tax preparation guidance beyond what’s available in instructions and publications provided by the IRS.

Benefits:

  • Electronic forms free of charge to all taxpayers
  • Name brand software
  • Step-by-step guidance and comprehensive customer service
  • Strict privacy and data security

Drawbacks:

  • Services limited for taxpayers with over $73,000 in income
  • State returns not free or available in every case
  • Distracting advertising

Good To Know

If you previously used TurboTax under IRS Free File, you’ll want to note that that’s no longer an option. Intuit discontinued its participation in IRS Free File because of restrictions the program places on providers, which the company said limited how it could serve customers for their tax needs and beyond. Intuit still provides free simple-return filing on TurboTax.com.

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TurboTax Free Edition

TurboTax receives consistently high marks from users who appreciate its easy-to-use interface. The free version of this popular software includes many of the same features that are included in the paid editions. In the event of an IRS audit, TurboTax offers guidance and advice from an experienced tax professional.

Once your taxes are filed and your refund is on its way, you might appreciate learning more about your financial health with Mint, which provides a free educational credit score and tools to help you create a budget and manage your finances.

TurboTax Free Edition is ideal for customers who have W-2 income and take the standard deduction. Taxpayers who itemize deductions or have different types of income can still file online or download the TurboTax Basic, Deluxe, Premier or Home & Business bundles for a fee.

Benefits:

  • Available in English and Spanish
  • Free filing for federal and state simple returns
  • Easy to upload and import tax data
  • Step-by-step guidance
  • 24/7 online support
  • CompleteCheck double-checks your return for accuracy

Drawbacks:

  • Only simple returns with no schedules are free
  • Heavy advertising and upselling
  • Refund advances available to select customers only
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H&R Block Free Online

H&R Block stands behind all of its tax preparation software, including H&R Block Free Online, with a maximum refund guarantee, professional audit support and a promise of 100% accuracy. As with its paid software, H&R Block’s free online option uses an interactive Q&A interface to guide taxpayers through the filing process. Although some users report that it might not be as easy to use as TurboTax, it remains an excellent choice for taxpayers looking for the best free tax software.

Users who don’t meet the qualifications for free filing can receive in-person service at a local H&R Block office or can purchase more comprehensive versions of H&R Block software for a fee, depending on how complicated their tax situation is. While no longer available this year — the program ended Feb. 28 — if you get your taxes done early by one of H&R Block’s tax professionals next year,  you could have the option of requesting a no-interest refund advance.

Benefits:

  • Free federal and state filing for qualified customers
  • Complimentary income tax and refund calculator
  • Autofill W-2 from a photo
  • Online technical support via instant chat
  • Convenient help center for answers to common tax questions
  • Easy drag-and-drop transfer of your previous year’s return
  • Layered data security and privacy protection
  • Accuracy check and audit protection

Drawbacks:

  • Terms and concepts aren’t always well explained
  • Navigation tabs might take some getting used to

TaxAct Free

TaxAct guarantees the accuracy of all versions of its software, including the free one, and it also guarantees you’ll get your maximum refund when you use TaxAct to e-file your returns. Geared toward simplifying the process of preparing and filing your returns, TaxAct gives returning customers a head start by importing data straight from last year’s return — or, if you used another company’s software last year, from an uploaded PDF. You’ll see your real-time refund status as you work. Before you file, TaxAct Alerts will double-check your return to ensure that it’s error-free and takes advantage of every tax break you qualify for. It will also let you know if there’s an issue that might trigger an IRS audit.

Once your return has been filed, TaxAct’s E-File Concierge keeps you up to date on changes to your return’s status. You can access the online return for one year and access a PDF of the return for six years. You’ll also receive a customized plan for reducing your taxes next year. 

The free version of TaxAct is suitable for filers with W-2, unemployment or retirement income, and you can use it to claim deductions or credits for dependents and college expenses. You can also prepare your state return. However, there’s a $39.95 fee for each state return you file.

Early filers can get free help with their taxes. TaxAct’s Expert Assist, which provides unlimited tax help from a CPA or other tax expert, is free to all users who file by April 7. After that date, Expert Assist is available for a fee.

Benefits:

  • Free federal filing for users with simple returns
  • Imports prior-year returns from TaxAct or other tax software
  • Step-by-step guidance through return
  • Handles credits and deductions for dependents and college expenses
  • Guaranteed accuracy
  • Alerts for possible errors and omissions that could trigger an audit
  • Strong security features to keep data safe

Drawbacks:

  • Poorly organized support page
  • Fee charged for filing state tax return

Cash App Taxes

The software formerly known as Credit Karma Tax is now Cash App Taxes, and the good news is that it’s still free — truly free, not just for filing basic federal and state returns, but for more complex returns as well. All that’s required to access Cash App Taxes is downloading Cash App to your phone and creating an account. Then you can do your return on your phone, using the app, or your computer. Whereas users get the same free federal and state tax return filing Credit Karma Tax offered, there’s now the added benefit of Cash App features like peer-to-peer payments, cash management and investing tools.

Unfortunately, not all tax forms are supported by the platform, so not all filers will be able to use the service.

Benefits:

  • File for free
  • Maximum refund guarantee
  • Accurate calculations guaranteed
  • Complimentary audit defense
  • Jump-start feature allows quick W-2 upload
  • Online help center provides answers to tax questions
  • Accuracy review before submission
  • Access to prior Credit Karma Tax returns

Drawbacks:

  • No drag-and-drop option for previous returns
  • Cash App account required
  • Doesn’t support all forms

Which Is the Best Free Tax Software for You?

As long as your tax situation is relatively simple, you can take advantage of some of the best free tax preparation software and e-file options that are available online via these reputable providers. Which one is best depends on your tax situation and your level of comfort using software to complete your returns.

The Free File platform is offered by the IRS, but state filing isn’t necessarily free — or available, depending on the Free File option you use — and not all states participate. You can file state returns using the other options, and TurboTax and Cash App Taxes can even help you take control of other areas of your finances. Although H&R Block might not be the easiest to use, the optional no-interest loan against your tax refund might make up for it. TaxAct, on the other hand, promotes ease of use, which could make it a good choice for first-time e-filers.

Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the companies mentioned. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, ratings or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the companies mentioned.

This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication.

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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.
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