This story is part of Taxes 2023, CNET's coverage of the best tax software, tax tips and everything else you need to file your return and track your refund.
We're smack dab in the middle of 2023 tax season. The IRS has been processing tax returns for the past six weeks and you've got about six more weeks until taxes are due on April 18 (though some residents in California, Alabama and Georgia will get extra time.)
Even though the average American pays $240 for tax preparation help, it isn't hard to file for free, even with a complicated tax situation. Along with free government programs for low-income taxpayers and English-language learners, several commercial online tax software programs will let you file your federal tax return at no cost at all.
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.
Cash App Taxes -- CNET's pick for best free tax software in 2023 -- doesn't include any paid upgrades, and is applicable for a large majority of US taxpayers, but it's not the only option. Read on to learn about the best ways to file your taxes for free, including official services from the IRS and top-notch free software from commercial publishers.
For more, learn about this year's biggest tax changes, get important tips on doing your taxes by phone and discover the best tax software for 2023.
Best free tax filing options
IRS Free File and Free File Fillable Forms
The IRS partners with tax companies to provide its Free File Program, which offers free tax software to Americans whose adjusted gross income, or AGI, is $73,000 or less. If you meet the AGI requirement, you can select one of eight commercial software programs (including TaxAct and TaxSlayer, which are on our list of best tax software for 2023) to guide you through filing a federal tax return.
The catch? Not all state returns are free. Each offer specifically lists which states are included in its Free File product; be sure to carefully review each product's state list before choosing.
If your AGI is greater than $73,000, you can 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.
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.
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 gives you one free federal return that includes all the IRS forms and schedules that most tax filers need. You'll need to pay $15 to file your state return, however.
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 and answers to common tax questions. It should work well for anyone looking to file taxes for a low price.
File your taxes for free -- even if you're self-employed-- with Cash App Taxes. For 2023, we ranked Cash App Taxes the best free tax product available right now.
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.
TurboTax Free Edition is designed for taxpayers filing simple returns only (Form 1040), including those who receive W-2s with dependent kids or student loan interest (not all taxpayers qualify). Intuit is also offering TurboTax Live Assisted Basic, which includes live support and review of your tax return by a professional, for free through March 31.
While the TurboTax software is excellent -- it earned the top spot on CNET's list of best tax software for 2023 -- you should be aware that TurboTax abandoned the IRS Free File program in 2021, and its free software excludes about two-thirds of the users who use TurboTax. The US Federal Trade Commission recently filed a lawsuit against TurboTax for deceiving consumers about its free tax-filing services.
Be sure to peruse the list of tax forms supported by TurboTax Free Edition to see if you qualify for free tax return before filing.
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 has live chat, 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. Peruse the full list of requirements for TaxSlayer Simply Free to help guide your decision.
Longtime in-person tax preparer H&R Block also offers a way to file your taxes for free online. H&R Block's Free Online product includes a federal tax return and one state return, all for no cost. However, it leaves out gig workers and freelancers as there's no support for 1099-NEC or 1099-MISC forms.
H&R Block Free Online does let you easily import tax documents from last year and includes a robust help center and online technical support. It offers access to a few tax deductions and credits, including the earned income tax credit, child tax credit and educational expenses.
However, if you want to report income from stock sales, deduct business or child care expenses or claim deductions like mortgage interest for free, 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.
File your federal and state taxes for free with TaxAct Free. You can import your filings from TurboTax or H&R Block, or import last year's TaxAct return at no extra charge.
After you file a federal return, your details are autocompleted in your state return and, as with H&R Block, 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.
How do I use free tax software?
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 reviews of your tax return and options to receive your tax refund by direct deposit or as a check in the mail.
Free tax software users should be wary of paid upgrades. 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 Cash App Taxes will work for you -- it includes the vast majority of IRS forms at no cost.
What is the best free tax software?
Based on its feature set, included IRS forms, interface and support, Cash App Taxes earns CNET's pick for best free tax software in 2023.
Cash App Taxes' biggest strength is that it will work for almost any tax filer. Its very short list of restrictions includes foreign income, nonresident state returns, increased standard deduction (rare), and married filing singly in community property states.
Cash App Taxes doesn't even have any paid tax preparation services, so you don't have to worry about pitches for upgrades. If you can file your return with Cash App Taxes, it will certainly be 100% free. It works with every state that requires a tax return except for Montana.
The level of support in Cash App Taxes is not comparable to top products like TurboTax or H&R Block, but it does include live chat and contextual help content.
What features do free tax software programs offer?
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. See more details on the five free commercial software included in our best free tax software collection:
Best free tax software, compared
|Free tax software||Free state return||Itemized deductions||Child Tax Credit||Unemployment income||Income requirement|
|Cash App Taxes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|H&R Block Free Online||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|TaxSlayer Simply Free||Yes||No||No||No||$100,000|
How do free tax software products make money?
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.
More free tax software advice
- Best Tax Software for 2023
- Biggest Tax Changes of 2023
- 2023 Tax Deadlines: Everything You Need to Know About When to File
- Avoid IRS Audits: Top 7 Reasons Why Tax Returns Get Flagged
- Best Tax Software for Freelancers, Gig Workers and Self-Employed
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