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.
A partnership between the IRS and seven of the biggest online tax-prep companies, Free File allows taxpayers under a certain income threshold to file simple federal returns for free.
More than 100 million people qualify for Free File, according to the IRS, close to 70% of all taxpayers. But since the program launched in 2003, less than 2% of eligible Americans have taken advantage of it.
Here's how to tell if you qualify for IRS Free File, what it can do for you and what you'll need to use it.
For more on taxes, discover what to do if you haven't received your W-2, learn about special tax credits for homeowners and fin out what is the best tax software for 2023.
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 federal returns and file them 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.
- ezTaxReturn.com (in English and Spanish)
- OnLine Taxes
Note: Intuit TurboTax 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 was $73,000 or less in 2022 will likely find an offer they qualify for.
The system is only set up to process relatively simple returns.
If you make more than $73,000, the IRS still provides fillable forms to let you file your federal taxes online, though there is no step-by-step guidance.
How does IRS Free File work?
The Free File program can answer basic questions, do the math 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 can't be done in person or through the mail, however.
In addition, Free File can't be used to submit returns for any year prior to 2022.
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 in order to access your Adjusted Gross Income
Once you have your documentation:
1. Go to the IRS Free File website.
2. Click the "Use Free Guided Tax Preparation" button. Then hit "Start lookup tool" under IRS Free File Online Lookup Tool for help in finding the right product.
3. You can also use the Browse All Offers tool to review each offer.
4. Select the best product.
5. 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, however, be charged to file a state return.
Read on: Best Free Tax-Filing Options for 2023