Where’s My Refund? 9 Free Government Tax Tools You Didn’t Know Existed

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The deadline to file taxes is fast approaching, but you don’t need to hit the panic button just yet. As you dig out last year’s records and sift through your W-2 and 1099 forms, you might be thinking it’s going to cost you dearly to get everything organized and filed correctly. But filing your taxes doesn’t have to be painful or expensive.

Forget the idea that a 1040-EZ form is the only simple way to file taxes. The Internal Revenue Service and participating tax agencies have a virtual smorgasbord of free tools and programs available to help you get your taxes filed in a timely, efficient manner without having to pay hundreds of dollars for a tax professional to do it for you.

Here’s a list of nine free resources that can offer you support this tax season.

Find Out: What Are the 2020-2021 Federal Tax Brackets and Tax Rates?

1. Taxpayer Advocate Service

This service is free of charge and offers tips for filing your taxes, making payment plans, interacting with the IRS, amending a return and more. It also provides guidelines to help ensure you don’t make a costly mistake. There is at least one Local Taxpayer Advocate in each state, and if you qualify to receive an advocate’s help, one will assist you with your taxing needs.

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Unfortunately, limited services and delays apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. No in-person TAS services are open during this time, according to the IRS website. But you can visit the Get Help section of the TAS website; download, complete and fax or mail Form 911 or contact your local office.

2. Free File

If your income was less than $72,000 in 2020, you can file your taxes online for free by using Free File. The free downloadable software walks you through each line of a return, does all the math, helps you find tax breaks and electronically files your federal return. It can be a useful resource for those filing their taxes for the first time. You may also be able to file your state taxes free of charge.

You can still file for free if you earned more than $72,000, but in this case, you will be using Free File Fillable Forms instead. You should have the know-how to fill out paper forms because only basic calculations and limited guidance are available with this option. Note that state tax filing is not available.

3. Get Transcript

If you want to view information regarding the items from your tax return or your tax account transactions, you can use the Get Transcript feature on the IRS website and receive a transcript via mail or directly online. A Tax Return Transcript will let you see most line items from your tax return, and a Tax Account Transcript gives you details on what type of return you filed, how much in taxes were paid and more.

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If you need the prior tax year’s Adjusted Gross Income — aka AGI — to file your taxes electronically, you’ll want to request your tax return transcript.

4. Where’s My Refund?

Once you’ve filed your taxes and the IRS receives your electronically filed tax return or paper return, you can check the status of your refund by accessing Where’s My Refund? via the IRS website or the mobile app, IRS2Go. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount.

For an electronically filed return, check the refund status within 24 hours after the IRS receives it. If you filed a paper tax return, wait about four weeks. The IRS generally issues refunds within 21 days, and the site that tracks your refund’s status only updates once every 24 hours. Due to COVID-19, paper tax returns and all tax return related correspondence are delayed and are being processed in the order that they are received. The IRS asks that you do not call or file a second return.

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Stay Safe: How To Protect Your Tax Refund From Being Stolen

5. IRS2Go App

Available in both English and Spanish, the IRS2Go app is the official mobile app of the Internal Revenue Service. With the app, you can check the status of your e-filed or mailed tax return, make a payment, get free tax help and request login security codes for certain IRS services. Download the app on the App Store , Google Play or Amazon.

6. IRS Tax Withholding Estimator

If you’re an employee, and you want to make sure enough tax is withheld from your paycheck so you can avoid a tax bill, or if you want to see if you can have less withheld so you can get more in your paycheck each month, utilize the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator . It can help you get the numbers just right so you’re keeping the maximum amount of every paycheck.

You’ll need your most recent pay statements, information about other income sources and your most recent tax return to use the tool. Note that if you do decide to change your withholding, you’ll need to complete a new Form W-4 and submit it to your employer as soon as possible.

What’s Yours? Here’s the Average IRS Tax Refund Amount

7. Direct Pay

No one likes having to pay taxes, but at least this feature makes it as painless as possible. Sign up for Direct Pay, and pay your tax bill out of your bank account at absolutely no additional cost. Unfortunately, Direct Pay does not accept credit or debit cards.

When making a payment, you’ll receive a confirmation number, and your payment can take up to two business days to process. Payments submitted after 8 p.m. EST will not begin processing until the following day. Direct Pay is available Monday-Saturday, 12 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. EST and Sunday 7 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. EST.

8. EFTPS: Electronic Federal Tax Payment System

The IRS’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System is designed to give you the ability to pay your federal taxes — income, employment, estimated and excise — free of charge using either the internet or telephone. You can schedule payments to be made in the future and check up to 15 months of payment history as well.Plus, you’ll get immediate acknowledgment of your payment to give you peace of mind. Customer service agents are also available to assist with payments or questions.

9. Online Payment Agreement Application

If you owe tens of thousands in overdue taxes and can’t pay your taxes in full right then and there, you can apply online to make payments in installments. Short-term payment agreements of 120 days or less are available if you owe less than $100,000 in combined taxes, penalties and interest. If you owe $50,000 or less in combined taxes, penalties and interest and you’ve filed all required tax returns, you may qualify for a long-term payment plan — aka installment agreement — of more than 120 days. Long-term payment plans may incur a $31-$149 setup fee.

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Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting for this article.

Last updated: Jan. 26, 2021

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About the Author

Daniel Cross has been an investment writer and financial advisor since 2005. David's experience includes being editor-in-chief of a corporate newsletter aimed at employee education regarding investing and retirement planning, crafting thought-provoking white papers for financial service firms. His writing can be seen on StreetAuthority, MoneyUnder30, Investopedia, Seeking Alpha, Morningstar, and many more sites.
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