Tax preparation isn’t cheap, but you can get free tax preparation if you know where to look. IRS Free File is a great option for many, and there are four other routes to check out, too.
1. IRS Free File
What it is: The IRS partners with a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance to provide access to free, name-brand tax-prep software from about a dozen tax-prep companies. 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 software products. You must have less than $66,000 of adjusted gross income to qualify for IRS Free File (the IRS estimates that 70% of all taxpayers are eligible). 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
2. Direct-from-provider free tax software
What it is: Many major tax software providers offer free tax 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 versions from some of the biggest providers.
3. 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 is $55,000.
What you get: Face-to-face free tax preparation from local, IRS-certified volunteers. However, 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.
4. 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 help 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.
What it is: A Department of Defense program that provides free H&R Block tax software, 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 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.