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How to File Your Taxes for Free Today

You can file your tax return online for free using any of these online tax services before the IRS deadline.

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It’s Tax Day. If you haven’t filed, there’s a chance you may qualify for free filing this year. In fact, filing your taxes for free is easier than ever if you have a simple tax return.

Free government programs for English-language learners and low-income taxpayers as well as several commercial online tax software programs let you file your federal taxes at no cost. You may even have the added option of filing your state taxes for free with your state’s Department of Revenue if you live in an income-taxed state. Many online tax software programs also include free state filing.

This story is part of Taxes 2024, CNET’s coverage of the best tax software, tax tips and everything else you need to file your return and track your refund.

If you have self-employment income to report or deductions to claim, you still may be able to file for free today. Cash App Taxes, for example, has no schedule or form restrictions included in its free tax software. Every user gets one federal and state return absolutely free. FreeTaxUSA also offers free federal filing to taxpayers, no matter your tax situation.

These are the best ways to file your taxes for free today, including official services from the IRS and free software from commercial publishers like TurboTax and H&R Block.

Note: You should be wary of online tax software that lures you in with free offers and then tries to sell you higher tiers of service. Before selecting any “free” tax-prep service and starting your tax return, make sure your tax filing needs and forms are covered under a company’s free tier.

Best free tax filing options

IRS Free File and Free Fillable Tax Forms

IRS Free File and Free Fillable Tax Forms

The IRS partners with eight different companies to provide its Free File Program, which offers tax software to Americans whose adjusted gross income, or AGI, is $79,000 or less. Among those listed are TaxAct and TaxSlayer. Both are on our list of the best tax software for 2024.

There are some drawbacks, however. Not all state returns are free -- each IRS partner specifically lists which states are included in its Free File. Maximum AGIs also vary by partner. So be sure to carefully read each product description to determine if you qualify.

In some cases, you may be able to file your taxes for free outside of the IRS Free File Program. Some IRS Free File partners may have better in-house free filing options for you to take advantage of. But freelancers and gig economy workers may find IRS Free File more affordable than pricier services like TurboTax and H&R Block.

If your AGI is greater than $79,000, you can still file for free with the IRS using its Free File Fillable Forms, but they don’t include free state return options, and there’s no guided assistance. You’ll need to manually check the math, and you can’t make changes once your return is accepted.

IRS Direct File

IRS Direct File

IRS Direct File is a new proprietary filing option from the IRS with arguably more restrictions than IRS Free File. 

The program officially launched on Jan. 29 as part of a pilot involving a preselected group of government employees. As of March 12, it’s available to all eligible taxpayers in 12 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. 

Along with IRS Direct File’s geographical restrictions, you can also only report income from a handful of sources, including W-2s, unemployment and social security. Credits and deductions you can claim are also limited.

Over time, IRS Direct File is expected to become a free federal tax filing alternative to TurboTax, H&R Block and the like. But in our opinion, it has to expand the amount of tax situations it covers. 

Read our full review of IRS Direct File 2024.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly

The IRS also offers free tax preparation services for those most in need: The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helps filers who make less than $60,000, those with disabilities or those who speak limited English. The volunteers are IRS-certified and supply basic income tax return prep.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly assists those who are 60 and older with specific advice on retirement-related concerns. Even those who are still working but nearing retirement might benefit from TCE services.

To find a VITA or TCE site near you, use the VITA/TCE Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.

TurboTax Free Edition is designed for taxpayers filing simple returns only (Form 1040), including those who receive W-2s with dependents or student loan interest. Only 37% of all customers qualify for TurboTax Free Edition, according to the company. 

While TurboTax’s software is excellent -- it earned the top spot on CNET’s list of best tax software for 2024 -- it has had its fair share of run-ins with the US Federal Trade Commission over accusations it misled taxpayers into paying for returns despite qualifying for Free Edition. 

The FTC has determined Intuit can’t market its services as “free” unless it meets certain conditions. In a blogpost following the decision, the tax giant said it has always been clear, fair and transparent with its customers, and is committed to free tax preparation.

Be sure to peruse the list of tax forms supported by TurboTax Free Edition to see if you qualify to file for free before you get started.

Read our full review of TurboTax 2024.

Founded in 2001 as an original member of the Free File Alliance, FreeTaxUSA provides a strong option for filing your federal income taxes at no cost. The tax preparation software owned by TaxHawk gives you one free federal return that includes all the IRS forms and schedules that most tax filers need. But you’ll need to pay $15 to file your state return.

A well-organized and efficient question-and-answer process will guide you through the process of completing your tax return. It doesn’t include the polished interface and support features of top tax software like TurboTax or H&R Block, but FreeTaxUSA does a good job of providing contextual help to answer common tax questions.

Read our full review of FreeTaxUSA 2024.

Long known for its in-person tax assistance, H&R Block has offered a way to file your taxes for free online for years now. 

Its online software lets you easily import tax documents from last year and includes a federal tax return and one state return. H&R Block also enables you to import last year’s return directly from TurboTax with your phone number.

H&R Block Free Edition includes many common tax forms, including unemployment and student loan interest. Overall, its free version allows more IRS forms than TurboTax in 2024. But like its top competitor, H&R Block leaves gig workers and freelancers out in the cold. The similarities between the two don’t stop there, either. Like TurboTax, H&R Block has recently come under fire by the FTC over its perceived deceptive marketing practices.

If you want to report income from stock sales or deduct business or child care expenses, you’ll need another tax service. The full list of IRS forms supported by Free Online can be found in this PDF list from H&R Block. Be sure to check that your tax situation qualifies you to file for free.

Read our full review of H&R Block 2024.

You can file your taxes for free with Cash App Taxes, no matter how complicated your situation is. The catch? You have to download the company’s mobile app to get started, even on desktop

For 2024, we consider Cash App Taxes a free option that is best for confident filers. Cash App doesn’t offer as much support as some professional software and doesn’t include the ability to upload 1099 income forms. But if you don’t need much hand-holding or have a simple return, it’s a great option for filing a tax return for free.

Read our full review of Cash App Taxes 2024.

Like with most commercial software, you’ll need a simple return to qualify for free tax filing with TaxSlayer. Its Simply Free tier lets you prepare, file and print your federal return -- and get one free state return at no extra cost.

TaxSlayer Simply Free has email and phone support for when you need extra help. Unfortunately, TaxSlayer Simply Free has some strict limitations: For example, you can’t claim the child tax credit or earned income tax credit. If you made over $100,000 in income of any form last year (job, side hustles, or unemployment), you also won’t qualify. 

Peruse the full list of requirements for TaxSlayer Simply Free to help guide your decision.

Read our full review of TaxSlayer 2024.

With TaxAct Free, you can import your filings from last year with ease.Critical tax forms like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are included in its free tier. Unemployment income and dependents are also covered.

After you file a federal return, your details are used to autofill your state return and, as with H&R Block and TurboTax, you’ll be able to see your estimated refund in real time. However, TaxAct does not include a free state tax return; that will cost you $40.

Read the list of state and federal forms TaxAct offers for free (click on “forms”) before deciding if TaxAct Free will work for you.

Read our full review of TaxAct 2024.

Best free tax software, compared

Free tax softwareFree state returnItemized deductionsChild Tax CreditUnemployment incomeIncome threshold
Cash App TaxesYesYesYesYesNo
H&R Block Free OnlineYesNoYesYesNo
TurboTax Free EditionYesNoYesNoNo
TaxAct FreeNoNoYesYesNo
TaxSlayer Simply FreeYesNoNoYes$100,000
As of April 12, 2024.

What is free tax software and how does it work?

Free tax preparation software allows you to complete all of the necessary forms for your tax return and file them with the IRS. Simple, guided interview-style questions let users answer tax questions that populate electronic IRS forms for completing their income tax returns.

These free tax programs include options to receive your tax refund by direct deposit, prepaid debit cards or as a check in the mail.

Free tax software users should be wary of upselling measures taken by providers with paid tiers or add-on services to offer. Some software publishers earn money by enticing free filers to upgrade for extra support or additional IRS forms that aren’t included with free versions. If the software you’re using requires an upgrade for a form or service you need, another service may include the forms you need for free.

What is the best free tax software?

There’s no one free filing tax filing option that will work best for everyone. Your best bet is to compare each free offering you may qualify for.

Cash App Taxes covers all filing situations for free, but doesn’t have great help and support. And the filing experience is especially difficult if you have a complicated return. FreeTaxUSA, meanwhile, is only free if you don’t have to file a state return. 

Even H&R Block, which has great help and support features, doesn’t cover all tax situations. But it covers more tax forms and schedules as part of its free tier than TurboTax offers. 

IRS programs like FreeFile and Direct File are other suitable options for filing your taxes for free, but have their own limitations, including income caps or credits you can claim, and in some cases access to state returns. 

How do free tax software products make money?

Filing your taxes for free may seem too good to be true. But tax software companies have other ways of making money when you file with them. 

Companies that offer free tax software generally earn money in two ways:

  • They attract free filers and then upsell them with paid service or feature upgrades.
  • They earn indirect income from free filers by collecting data, targeting users with advertisements, raising brand awareness or cross-selling financial products and services, thereby increasing the number of users for their products.

For example, Cash App Taxes requires that users install its Cash App mobile payment app. Increasing the users of the Cash App service helps the company earn money in ways like retailer hardware fees, transaction fees, selling bitcoin and net interest lending.

Methodology: How we select the best free tax software

CNET reviews tax software by comparing products across set criteria. We use the software to prepare personal tax returns, examine tax products’ terms and offers, communicate with software representatives to resolve questions about products, compare feature sets and analyze each software for its effectiveness in common tax situations.

We consider the features and functionality of the tax preparation software, the user experience, the software interface, website performance, quality of help and support, and the value based on price. We are also looking for and evaluating specific features, including file importing or photo capture of forms, number and type of available IRS forms and schedules, contextual help, desktop and phone/tablet compatibility and syncing, professional tax assistance, maximum refund and accuracy guarantees, live support and security protections.

Specifically for best free tax software, we consider the limitations and restrictions of the free services offered, unique features for each service, functionality related to low-income tax filers, in-person support and assistance, and whether or not a free state tax return is included with the free federal return.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Danni Santana has spent seven years as an editor and business journalist covering industries like sports, retail, restaurants, and now personal finance. Most recently he worked as a retail editor at Business Insider. He is a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. His biggest loves outside of the newsroom include, running, cooking, playing video games and collecting sneakers.
Peter is a writer and editor for the CNET How-To team. He has been covering technology, software, finance, sports and video games since working for @Home Network and Excite in the 1990s. Peter managed reviews and listings for during the 2000s, and is passionate about software and no-nonsense advice for creators, consumers and investors.
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