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How to File Your Taxes for Free in 2024

Free filing options vary from the IRS Free File program to standalone tax software providers like Cash App Taxes and TurboTax.

“I don’t want a tax bill” is usually the first thought that comes to mind every tax season. The last thing you want to do is add an additional expense by paying to file your return when you might qualify for free 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.

The average American pays $240 for tax preparation services, according to a 2022 report. Yet it’s easier than ever to file for free, especially if you have a simple tax return.

Along with free government programs for low-income taxpayers and English-language learners, several commercial online tax software programs also let you file your federal taxes at no cost. And, even if you have deductions to claim or self-employment income to report, you still might be able to file for free with one of our top tax software picks, Cash App Taxes.

Here are the best ways to file your taxes for free, including official services from the IRS and top-notch 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 situation won’t require you to upgrade to a paid product.’

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 Tax Act and Tax Slayer, which are both on our list of 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.

Note: IRS Direct File, another IRS free filing option, finally launched this week. Only a small number of preselected government employees can try out the software as part of the tax agency’s pilot. If the initial phase goes well, the IRS expects to roll out the program in 12 states, including New York, California and Texas by mid-March.

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 $64,000, 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.

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.

Additionally, 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.

Read our full review of H&R Block 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.

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. 

This year, Intuit is again offering TurboTax Live Assisted Basic, which includes live support and review of your tax return by a professional, for free through March 31.

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.

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 Jan. 30, 2024

FAQs

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 interviews let users answer 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 or as a check in the mail.

Free tax software users should be wary of upselling measures taken by providers. Some software publishers earn money by enticing free filers to upgrade for extra support or required IRS forms that aren’t included with free versions. If the software you’re using requires an upgrade while you’re filing, see if another service includes it for free.

Based on its feature set, included IRS forms, interface and support, Cash App Taxes earns CNET’s pick for best free tax software in 2024, predominantly because it accepts all IRS forms. 

Cash App Taxes has a very short list of restrictions including foreign income, nonresident state returns, increased standard deduction (rare), and married filing singly in community property. If you can file your return with Cash App Taxes, it will be 100% free. It works with every state that requires a tax return except for Montana.

That said, the level of support in Cash App Taxes is not comparable to top products like TurboTax or H&R Block. If you require more of a guiding hand while filing your taxes on your own, check to see if you qualify for these services.

Free tax software programs vary in their limitations, feature sets and ability to file state tax returns for free. Some free programs restrict their users by income level or whether you can claim dependents. See more details on the five free commercial software included in our best free tax software collection below.

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 increasing the number of users for their products.

For example, Cash App Taxes, our top pick for best free tax software, requires that users install its Cash App mobile payment-service 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 Download.com during the 2000s, and is passionate about software and no-nonsense advice for creators, consumers and investors.