IRS Free File & How to Get Free Tax Preparation in 2020

Here's where to get free tax software, free tax preparation and free tax help this year.

Tina OremOctober 5, 2020
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IRS Free File and Other Ways to Get Free Tax Preparation

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Tax preparation isn’t cheap, but you can get free tax preparation if you know where to look. The IRS Free File program is a great option for many, and there are four other routes to check out, too, if you want free tax help.

Some tax rules have changed due to coronavirus

Learn more about what's different for taxpayers as part of the federal government's response to the coronavirus.

IRS Free File

What it is

IRS Free File is a partnership between the IRS and a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance. IRS Free File provides access to free tax preparation software from 10 tax-prep companies, including major brands. You must have less than $69,000 of adjusted gross income to qualify for IRS Free File (the IRS estimates that 70% of all taxpayers are eligible). IRS Free File providers include big names such as H&R Block, Intuit (which makes TurboTax), TaxAct, and TaxSlayer.

What you get

  • Provide some basic information about yourself and where you live, and IRS Free File will match you with free tax preparation software products.

  • According to the IRS, more than 20 states also have state Free File programs patterned after the federal one. That means free tax preparation for your state return, too. Those states are: Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia.

  • Also, even if your income is over the limit, IRS Free File provides everyone with access to fillable electronic versions of IRS forms (but not much guidance).

Where to get it

IRS.gov/freefile or via the IRS2Go app. Also, you can visit major tax software providers' websites and look for a link to their IRS Free File products.

Direct-from-provider free tax preparation software

What it is

Many major tax software providers offer free tax preparation software for people with really simple tax situations. These packages may be different from what’s available via IRS Free File.

What you get

  • Typically (but not always), these packages work for people who only have income from one job and aren’t itemizing on their tax returns.

  • State tax returns are usually also included in these free packages, though some software providers tend to add a fee for that as the April tax-filing deadline nears.

Where to get it

Our tax software roundup compares free online tax software from some of the biggest providers. Here's a quick summary.

Package name:

FREE

Federal return: $0

State return: $0

FREE

Federal return: $0

State return: $0

FREE

Federal return: $0

State return: $0

SIMPLY FREE

Federal return: $0

State return: $0

Key forms supported:

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

  • Schedules 1-3.

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

  • Form 1040 (two pages) — but only if your taxable income is under $100,000, you file as single or jointly and you claim no dependents.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

What it is

A federal grant program that helps community organizations provide free tax preparation to low- and moderate-income individuals, the disabled, the elderly and limited-English speakers. Generally, the income limit to qualify for free tax help is $56,000.

What you get

  • Face-to-face free tax preparation from local, IRS-certified volunteers. (Note that during the government's ongoing response to coronavirus, many VITA offices are temporarily closed.)

  • This might not work for you if your tax situation is complicated. Volunteers won’t prepare Schedule C with losses (sorry, freelancers), complicated Schedule Ds (sorry, investors) or forms associated with nondeductible IRA contributions, investment income for minors, premium tax credits, requests for Social Security numbers or determinations of worker status (i.e., whether you’re technically an employee or an independent contractor).

  • At some sites, you might be able to do your own free tax preparation using web-based tax software with a volunteer to help guide you.

Where to get it

The IRS website lists VITA sites across the country.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly

What it is

A federal grant program that helps community organizations provide free tax preparation. Although the program was established to give free tax help to people 60 and older, and still prioritizes that demographic, there’s actually no minimum age requirement. Trained volunteers do the tax preparation.

What you get

Similar to VITA, community organizations and nonprofits use grant money to provide free tax preparation. Most TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program.

Where to get it

The IRS website lists TCE sites(Note that during the government's ongoing response to coronavirus, TCE offices are temporarily closed.)

MilTax

What it is

A Department of Defense program that provides free tax software from H&R Block, as well as financial and legal resources and other help to military members and their families.

What you get

In addition to free tax software, trained MilTax consultants can give free tax help by phone and via live chat. MilTax participates in the VITA program, which means you also can get face-to-face free tax help on base or nearby.

Where to get it

Head to Militaryonesource.mil to get the software, find helpline numbers and hours of operation and see if a nearby installation has a VITA site.

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