Along with tax season comes tax preparation, which few people enjoy — even if you’re owed a tax refund instead of a tax bill. Not only do you have to file a federal tax return, but in most states, you also have to file a state income tax return. Most state tax returns are due the same day as your federal tax return: April 17, 2018. There are seven states that don’t impose an income tax at all. You don’t have to worry about filing a state income tax return if you live and work in one of these states.
If you don’t live and work in those seven states, you can save money in a few different ways when you file taxes. Depending on your income, you might qualify for free tax advice and services through the Internal Revenue Service. Here’s what you need to know about filing your state income taxes for free.
Options for Filing State Taxes for Free
Many software programs offer free federal returns but charge you to file a state income return. Three federal-assisted programs provide free support and services for taxpayers who file state income taxes:
- Free File
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
- Tax Counseling for the Elderly
Related: State Income Tax Rates Explained
How to Qualify for IRS Free File
The IRS has partnered with the Free File Alliance, a group of tax software companies, to provide IRS Free File for qualifying taxpayers. IRS Free File offers free tax preparation and filing services, for both federal and state returns. To qualify for IRS Free File, your adjusted gross income must be less than $64,000. According to the IRS, that means 70 percent of taxpayers qualify for this free tax-filing benefit. And, in 2016, there were 13 different brand-name tax software partners who participated in the program.
The IRS offers fillable forms for federal taxes, which can be downloaded for free, if your AGI exceeds $64,000. When using the free fillable forms, you’re on your own when it comes to filling them out — the software only offers basic guidance and math calculations and for filing your state income taxes. So, if you’re not comfortable doing your own income tax return, you should find a reputable tax preparer or tax software to help.
Your state might offer free filing options. For example, Kansas offers KS WebFile, a free way to file state income taxes and homestead exemption claims. The California Franchise Tax Board has a partnership with MaxBack that allows you to file a free California income tax return with online tax preparation if you pay for the federal tax return.
How to File State Taxes With IRS Free File
To use IRS Free File to file state taxes at no cost, take the following steps:
- Gather required documentation, including your prior year’s tax return, Social Security numbers for yourself and your spouse and any dependents, and documents relating to taxable income for the year, such as W-2s and 1099s, Social Security benefit statements and unemployment benefit statements.
- Go to the IRS Free File website and select the tax software you would like to use. The IRS offers a tool to help you find the right one for you based on your age, income and state of residency. But check the fees because offering the state tax returns for free is at the discretion of the providers, according to the IRS.
- The instructions will guide you through the process to securely and safely file taxes online. You can pay taxes you owe, if any, when you file.
How to Qualify for Free Tax Preparation Through IRS Programs
The IRS also offers two free volunteer-run assistance programs to prepare tax returns for people who qualify.
- VITA provides free tax help, including filing state tax returns, to anyone who makes under $54,000 per year, persons with disabilities and individuals who speak limited English.
- TCE specializes in assisting people age 60 and older with filing their taxes, specializing in tax situations unique to the elderly and retirees.
VITA and TCE sites can help file state income tax returns with every state that requires income tax returns.
How to File Taxes Through VITA and TCE
Before visiting a VITA or TCE location, gather your required information, including identification, your prior year’s tax return, all of your tax forms like W-2s and 1099s, information regarding any other income, any information regarding tax deductions and credits you qualify for. Then take the following steps to take advantage of these ways to file your state taxes for free:
- Locate the closest VITA or TCE location using the VITA/TCE locator tool or calling 800-906-9887.
- The volunteers will review your documentation to prepare your tax return for you. Though the VITA and TCE volunteers can help with most returns, they can’t help with Schedule C losses, complicated capital gains, non-deductible IRA contributions, minor’s investment income, applications for a Social Security number, premium tax credits or determining worker status for purposes of federal employment taxes and income tax withholding.
You won’t qualify for free state income tax filing if your income is too high, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to file. The good news is there are many other options that aren’t too expensive, and you can even file your taxes from your phone.