File Your Taxes For Free If You Can

Did you know there are a number of ways to file your taxes for free? By “free” I mean where you don’t have to pay a tax preparer, you don’t have to pay for tax software, and you don’t pay for any other out of pocket costs. “Free” probably does mean using some of your time, so…I guess there’s no such thing as truly free. But no cash cost is pretty good if you meet the guidelines for various programs.

If you make less than ~$57,000 and want someone to prepare your taxes for you: In several past tax seasons, I volunteered through the IRS VITA program (volunteer income tax assistance) to prepare taxes for lower income people (less than around $57k a year). This is one-on-one, in-person tax preparation. Some VITA sites let you make an appointment in advance, others are first-come first-served. All the volunteer preparers have to pass a certification test each year. They won’t handle more complex tax situations (like if you have your own business with depreciation expenses or overall losses, rental income, or complex capital gains), so I recommend checking this list with your situation in mind to make sure you don’t waste time if you don’t qualify for VITA.

If you make less than $72,000 and are ready to DIY it: You could use free software to prepare your own taxes. The IRS has a webpage where you can explore the various options and use a lookup tool to find out which ones also offer free filing for your state tax return. Each option has its own qualifications (e.g., being under a certain age), so do check those out before you enter all your info and then find out that particular option is not actually free for you.

This excellent article from ProPublica also summarizes free filing options for people in the military (as of Jan 2020), and also provides good warnings on how to avoid being tricked into paying for tax software (like, from TurboTax) when you actually qualify for the free stuff.