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Everything to Know About the IRS' Free File Program

Here's everything Free File can (and can't) do.

Mary-Elisabeth Combs Associate Writer
Mary-Elisabeth is an associate writer on CNET's How-To team. She's a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's English Department, and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. On the How-To team, she covers a little bit of everything. When she's not writing, she's catching up on Formula 1 or reading.
Dan Avery Former Writer
Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
Expertise Personal finance, government and policy, consumer affairs
Mary-Elisabeth Combs
Dan Avery
3 min read
April 15th is Tax Day

Taxpayers who earn $79,000 or less qualify for free filing services.

James Martin/CNET

The 2024 tax filing season kicked off over a month ago now, which means that tax season is officially in full swing. Whether you're ready to start filing your taxes or if you're just getting started prepping for this year's filing, you might want to check out this IRS program that enables millions of Americans to file their federal tax returns for free. 

CNET Tax Tips logo

IRS Free File is a partnership between the IRS and seven of the country's biggest online tax-prep companies. If your adjusted gross income was $79,000 or less in 2023, you are eligible to use Free File to process and submit a simple return for free. (Some participating companies will even process your state return.)

According to the IRS, 2024 has been a big year for Free File, with the program seeing a year-over-year change of nearly 10%. 943,000 filers have taken advantage of the program this filing season, and with average refunds up 130% from the start of filing season, this could be a good time to take advantage of the program. 

Here's what you need to know about Free File, including who qualifies for it, what it can do and what you'll need to use it. 

For more, check out the best tax software for 2024, our cheat sheet for filing your taxes this year and everything to know about the child tax credit in 2024

What is IRS Free File?

IRS Free File is a nonprofit partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of commercial tax-prep companies that have agreed to process and file federal returns electronically at no charge. (Some may also offer free state returns.) 

If you use Free File, you'll be directed to one of these companies' sites to complete your return with step-by-step instructions.

  • 1040Now
  • Drake (1040.com)
  • ezTaxReturn.com (offers both English and Spanish)
  • FileYourTaxes.com
  • On-Line Taxes
  • TaxAct
  • TaxHawk (FreeTaxUSA)
  • TaxSlayer

Note that Intuit Turbo Tax withdrew from the program in 2021.

Who qualifies for IRS Free File?

Participating tax-preparation providers set their own eligibility rules, but individuals whose adjusted gross income, or AGI, was $73,000 or less in 2023 will likely find an offer for which they qualify.

The system is only set up to process relatively simple returns.

If you make more than $79,000, the IRS still provides fillable forms to let you file your federal taxes online, although there is no step-by-step guidance.

How does IRS Free File work?

The Free File program can answer basic questions, perform calculations and file your federal return with the IRS.

"Our software offers step-by-step help to get your federal taxes done quickly, safely, securely and at absolutely no cost," Free File Alliance director Tim Hugo said in a statement. 

You can access the program on your computer, smartphone or tablet. It cannot be done in person or through the mail. In addition, Free File can't be used to submit returns for any year prior to 2023.

To file with IRS Free File, you'll need:

  • Income statements (W2s, 1099s, etc.)
  • Social Security numbers for you and any relevant spouse or dependents
  • Your 2021 tax return to access your adjusted gross income

Once you have your documentation, follow these steps: 

1. Go to the IRS Free File website.

2. Click the Use Free Guided Tax Preparation button. Then hit Find Your Trusted Partner tool to find an offer for the right product for you. Alternatively, you can use the Browse All Trusted Partners tool to review each offer.

3. Select the best product for you.

4. Follow the links to the provider's website to begin your tax return. 

Is IRS Free File really free?

According to the IRS, you can't be asked to buy any products or services in exchange for having a federal tax return prepared by a participant in the Free File program.

You may be charged to file a state return.

For more tax tips
, here's how to find out when you'll get your 2024 tax refund and the fastest way to get your 2024 tax refund