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Tax season 2021: Where to file your tax return for free

Tax season is here, and there are plenty of places that let you file your taxes for free.

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Filing taxes is one of the most tedious things you'll ever do. But you're required to do it every year, even as tax laws and requirements change. You can always pay for tax prep help -- and we've rounded up the best tax software for 2021 if you decide to go that route. Or you can hire a tax specialist to help you reduce your tax burden and maximize your refund. 

But not everyone wants or needs software or a professional. If your tax scenario is simple or you're in a certain income bracket, you may be able to file for free -- and still get the refund you deserve. Here are some options for filing your taxes for free and details about eligibility.

Read more: The best tax software for 2021

1. IRS Free File

If you'd prefer to avoid third-party software, you can always file directly with the IRS. The IRS offers Free File software if your income is below $72,000. Or you can use Free File Fillable Forms if your income is more than $72,000. 

It's important to know the distinction: the software offers free state return options; Fillable Forms doesn't. Fillable Forms requires that you file your taxes yourself without IRS help. You'll need to do the math yourself and have your previous year's tax return on hand.

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2. VITA or TCE

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 $57,000, 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 is available for all taxpayers, but targets those who are 60 years of age and older. The preparation offers specific advice on retirement-related concerns that seniors are currently facing. Some people might not be retired yet, but are on the brink of retirement, and might benefit from TCE services.

Both VITA and TCE services are available at the community level. To find a VITA or TCE site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.

3. H&R Block

While H&R Block has offices and professional help all over the country, it also offers a way to file your taxes for free online. You can easily import your tax documents, which means you can switch from the software you used last year. If you're struggling with filing, you can use H&R Block's help center or online technical support. 

Even with the free file, you'll have access to tax deductions and credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit. The free file software also tracks your refund as you complete it, so you can see how much you earn as you go.

4. TurboTax

TurboTax also charges to use its software or online services. But, like H&R Block, it has a Free File program. Eligibility requirements are announced at the beginning of each tax season since they change every year.

5. TaxAct

File your federal and state taxes for free with TaxAct. You can import your filings from TurboTax or H&R Block or import your TaxAct return from last year for no extra charge. Sometimes when you're offered free preparation, there's an extra charge to file. But with TaxAct, you can prepare, file and print all for free. When you file your federal return, your details are autocompleted in your state return so it's easier -- and quicker -- to complete. As with H&R Block, you'll be able to see your estimated refund in real time.

6. eSmart Tax

Liberty Tax offers eSmart Tax with a few different tiers, including a free one. To qualify, you'll need a relatively simple return with a Form 1040. You'll be able to import last year's return, even from other tax filers. While other offers have free state returns, eSmart charges extra for this service.

7. TaxSlayer

To qualify for a free TaxSlayer filing, you'll need a simple return. You'll be able to prepare, file and print your return for free and get one free state return for no extra cost. While some preparers offer online-only support through chat, TaxSlayer has email and phone support when you need extra help. You can also deduct your filing fees from your federal tax refund.

8. Credit Karma

Even though Credit Karma is mostly known as a place to check your credit score for free, you can take advantage of its other products, including filing your taxes for free. With Credit Karma, you can also file a state return for free.

When are taxes due?

The IRS began accepting 2020 income tax returns on Feb. 12. The deadline for those returns is on May 17 this year. (Remember: You will be filing your 2020 income tax return in 2021.) 

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