If your financial life is uncomplicated, and you have a simple tax return, you may be able to file your taxes without paying a penny. But some companies advertise free tax-filing services that end up being totally free for very few people.
In this article, I’ll take a close look at seven of the most well-known tax filing options that claim to offer free filing services. I’ve checked out each of the services listed below to find out what’s included for free, who’s eligible for free tax filing and what you need to know before deciding to where to file.
Filing Taxes Online for Free
If you have a simple tax return with just W-2s and/or unemployment income, you may be eligible to file your taxes for free. Still, it’s important to do your research before you choose which tax filing software to use. Not all tax filing services are created the same, and not all of them allow you to file both state and federal returns for free.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know about the most popular free tax filing services available this year:
Best For: Free Federal: Free State: Who's Eligible:
IRS Free File Comparing free tax filing offers Yes With Some Offers Filers with an adjusted gross income of $72,000 or below (if you earn more, you can fill out a federal tax return on your own for free)
H&R Block Free Filing from your phone Yes Yes People with W-2 income, unemployment income, social security income, student loan interest and/or who are claiming dependents
Credit Karma Tax Completely free filing with audit defense Yes Yes Anyone filing a simple tax return for only one state
TurboTax Free Free expert review for early filers Yes Yes Anyone filing a simple tax return who hasn't contributed to a traditional IRA or HSA and who isn't deducting student loan interest
TaxSlayer Students and military members Yes Yes Filers with simple tax returns (including one state) who aren’t claiming a Child Tax Credit and haven’t made IRA or HSA contributions
FreeTaxUSA Affordable complex tax returns Yes No ($12.95) Everyone
TaxAct Simple, free federal returns Yes No ($4.95) Filers with simple tax returns including W-2s, unemployment and/or retirement income who are claiming Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Credit
You’ll find more information on each free tax service below to help you decide which software is best for you.
IRS Free File
Best for comparing free tax filing offers
The IRS has partnered with a variety of tax filing software companies, including several of those listed below, to create IRS Free File.
If your adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less, you can click “Choose an IRS Free File Offer” and browse all available free tax filing offers. You can also use the tool on the site to answer a few questions about your tax return and get matched with the best free filing software for you. You’ll definitely be able to file your federal taxes for free, but know that only some of the offers on the IRS website include free state filing.
If your 2020 adjusted gross income was over $72,000, you can still use IRS Free File. You’ll just have to fill out your own Free File Fillable Forms, which will require you to do a little math on your own. For more information on IRS Free File, check out our guide.
H&R Block Free
Best for filing from your phone
H&R Block offers a free online tax filing service that includes free state tax prep, Earned Income Credit (EITC) and deductions for student tuition, payments and loan interest. That makes it a great option for low-to-moderate-income filers as well as students! In addition to filling online, you can download the app for an even easier experience. This way, you can take pictures of your W-2 instead of entering the information box by box.
If you qualified for a federal stimulus check but never received it, you can claim a credit for it using the H&R Block’s free software. However, it’s important to know that if you’ve made contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), you won’t be eligible for the free version.
If you need additional help, H&R Block advertises a “Basic Online Assist” package for $39.99. However, if you just need to chat with someone, you can file with H&R Block Deluxe for $10 less at $29.99. The Deluxe option includes live phone or chat tech support.
Best for completely free filing with audit defense
In addition to offering free credit score estimates, Credit Karma also offers free tax filing online. Unless you have a really complicated tax return or you’re filing in more than one state, Credit Karma is a great option for filing your taxes for free.
This is the only service on the list that doesn’t offer a paid service for any features, including audit defense. According to the website, if you get audited by the IRS, a tax preparation professional from Credit Karma can help you respond to inquiries and explore your options.
While H&R Block requires users to upgrade to a paid option for things like HSA contributions, itemized deductions, self-employment income and small business ownership, Credit Karma Free includes them all on state and federal returns. That makes it a great fee-free option.
Best for a free expert review for early filers
At some point during tax season, you’ve probably come across an advertisement for TurboTax Free. If you’re filing a simple tax return including a W-2 and/or unemployment income, this could be a good option. But if you’ve contributed to a traditional IRA or HSA or you plan on deducting student loan interest you’ve paid, you won’t qualify for the free version.
If you’re eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or if you have child dependents to claim, TurboTax Free makes it easy. The tech is easy too: You can upload a picture of your W-2 to avoid having to retype all the information. You can also get an expert to review your tax return for free if you file by February 15.
If you end up not qualifying for free filing of your federal and state returns with TurboTax, check out H&R Block as a backup. You can still claim the EITC and the qualifications for free filing are a little broader.
Best for students and military members
TaxSlayer offers a “Simply Free” service that includes federal tax returns and one state tax return. If you have a simple tax return with just a W-2 and/or unemployment income, you’ll be eligible for this service.
One thing that makes TaxSlayer stand apart from others on the list is the fact that you can deduct student loan interest and educational expenses. That makes it a great choice for both current and former students. Additionally, you can get free phone and email support.
If you’re a military member, you’ll be eligible to file free with TaxSlayer Classic, which includes more complicated tax situations, the Child Tax Credit, HSA contributions, itemized deductions, self-employment income and more.
Best for affordable complex tax returns
Despite its name, FreeTaxUSA is one of the two resources on this list that definitely is not 100% free. Still, at $12.95 per state filing, this service is extremely affordable.
If you have a more complicated tax return including self-employment, itemized deductions, IRA/HSA contributions or something else entirely, you’ll still be able to file your federal tax return for free with FreeTaxUSA. No matter how complicated your federal return is, you’ll get the same flat rate for state returns.
If you find that you’re not eligible for other free tax filing options, FreeTaxUSA may be the best option for you. If you feel like you need additional support, you can purchase the Deluxe version for $19.94, which includes state and federal returns. It comes with live support, audit assistance and unlimited amended returns.
Best for simple, free federal returns
TaxAct offers both free and paid tax filing software. The free version includes W-2 income, unemployment income, retirement income, Child Tax Credits, Earned Income Credits and Stimulus Credit. It also allows students and those with dependents to file expenses.
Still, like many other “free” services, you’ll have to upgrade to a Deluxe package if you’re filing a more complicated return that includes things like student interest payments or HSA contributions. And it isn’t free to file your state return with TaxAct. That will cost you $4.95.
Ultimately, you should be eligible to file a free federal tax return online if you’re just entering standard information like a W-2 or unemployment. Some of the resources on this list will also let you file state taxes for free based on your specific information.
Money expert Clark Howard is a fan of IRS Free File because it allows you to compare free tax filing options and choose the one that makes the most sense for you. Using this free resource, you’ll be able to save a lot of time and money.
If you’d rather download an app than visit a website, consider H&R Block Free for a great mobile experience. If free audit defense is a bigger priority, consider Credit Karma Tax. To claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or a Child Tax Credit, make sure you’re using a free service that includes them like TurboTax Free. Similarly, student loan interest and expenses can be deducted for free with TaxSlayer.
Finally, if you aren’t eligible for a free tax return (federal or state), you’ll find affordable options ranging from $5-$13 at FreeTaxUSA and TaxAct.
Do you plan on filing your taxes for free this year? Tell us where in the comments below!