Best Free Tax Filing Software 2017

Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
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We’ve carefully reviewed the free versions of online software from the biggest players in the DIY tax industry. We scrutinized whether “free” actually means free, tested the user interfaces, simulating how they guide you through the process, and dug into support offerings, all to help you find the best tax software for your situation.

 

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The cost of tax-prep software can really add up, even for DIY types. But if you look hard enough, you’ll find many programs that make it free to file your return. Whether you want to cut costs or just don’t need a lot of extras, NerdWallet has researched a lot of options in free online tax-prep software.

First, one thing to know

If your adjusted gross income was less than $64,000 for the 2016 tax year, you might be able to skip the rest of this article.

That’s because you probably qualify to use the IRS Free File program, a group of about a dozen tax software companies that have agreed to let people under that income threshold use their software at no charge. Answer a few questions on the Free File website, and the IRS will match you with free online tax software.

If you had more than $64,000 of adjusted gross income in 2016, or just don’t want the IRS telling you what to use, don’t worry. Virtually all of the big names in the tax software business offer a free version. They’re not all the same, though — and some of them aren’t even 100% free. And that’s where we’ll begin.

» Estimate your taxes: Try our tax calculator

‘Free actually means free’ software

If you live in a state that has an income tax, you’ll need to file a state return in addition to your federal return. These online packages (we’re not reviewing desktop versions this year) let you do that for free as well.

taxact-logo
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A
  • What’s it like to use? Interface isn’t fancy, but it covers all the bases and has W-2 import capabilities; importing last year’s TaxAct return costs $10.
  • Support options: Comes with unlimited email and phone support (tech support and tax help).
  • See our TaxAct review.
Start your return at TaxAct's secure website
taxslayer
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ
  • What’s it like to use? Interface rivals higher-priced providers with an interview-style Q&A. Comes with import of prior year returns, though there’s no W-2 import.
  • Support options: Free email and phone support — though only for tech support (not tax help).
  • See our TaxSlayer review.
Start your return at TaxSlayer's secure website

You’ll notice H&R Block and even TurboTax — perhaps the biggest name in tax software and our pick as the best software overall — are not listed here. That’s because their online free versions charge $29.99 to file a state return. The same thing happens with FreeTaxUSA, which lets you file a federal return for free but charges $12.95 to prepare and file a state return.

Some of the paid versions from tax software providers charge $20, $30 or more to do one state return, so getting that for free is a score. People who lived in two states during the year likely will need to pony up to file in that second state, though. But filers with simple returns can save some decent money.

Best for itemizing deductions

hr-block-logoless
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 (with Schedule A for itemizers)
  • What’s it like to use? Offers an intuitively designed interview process that keeps things on track.
  • Support options: Free tech support (not tax support) via chat. Getting your homework checked or obtaining services at one of Block’s 12,000 brick-and-mortar offices costs extra.
  • See our H&R Block review.
Start your return at H&R Block's secure website

Itemizing deductions instead of taking the standard deduction can save some taxpayers a lot of money, but not all free tax software makes that possible. Many work only with Form 1040EZ or Form 1040A, which aren’t for itemizers, people with more than $100,000 of taxable income or taxpayers with more involved tax situations.

But this year, H&R Block’s free option supports the full, regular Form 1040 and Schedule A, which allows users with lots of deductions to maximize their savings by itemizing — and still file for free. Keep in mind that freelancers, active investors or people with rental properties will probably need to file other schedules besides the Schedule A (and thus probably upgrade to a paid version), so this isn’t for everybody. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

H&R Block offers an interview-style method for completing returns, and both federal and state returns are free. If you want access to handy tools that let you more quickly itemize those bags of clothes you donated, or you want unlimited expert tax advice via chat, tech support over the phone, or the ability to store and access your tax returns for a few years, you will need to upgrade to a paid version of software.

Best for free human tax help

The best things in life are free, but tax advice usually isn’t one of them if you’re using free software. These mostly free packages have zero-cost support options to help answer tax questions (not just tech support questions) by connecting you to an actual human.

freetaxusa
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A, 1040
  • What’s it like to use? Filers who know what they’re doing and don’t need anything overly engineered will likely fare best.
  • Support options: Free email support with a 24-hour turnaround, as well as a searchable knowledge base.
  • See our FreeTaxUSA review.
Start your return at FreeTaxUSA's secure website
taxact-logo
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A
  • What’s it like to use? Interface isn’t fancy, but it covers all the bases and has W-2 import capabilities; importing last year’s TaxAct return costs $10.
  • Support options: Free tax help via phone is a rare find, especially for software at this price point, and during tax season it’s available seven days a week, including into the evenings Monday through Friday.
  • See our TaxAct review.
Start your return at TaxAct's secure website

 

See what’s best for you

In general, if you think you’ll need a lot of hand-holding when you do your taxes, it’s probably a good idea to upgrade to a paid version. We have a similar roundup of the best tax software overall. We also built a tool, based on our research, that compares packages from the top providers. With a little information about your tax situation and preferred features, we’ll recommend the right software.


Tina Orem is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: torem@nerdwallet.com.

Updated April 6, 2017.