Taxes may seem difficult but choosing a way to file doesn’t have to be. Paying for tax preparation can be expensive, costing $50 to $500. That fee drains money from your tax refund. Luckily, there are several free tax filing options available, both in-person and online.
Note: If you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit, your refund will be delayed regardless of whether you use free tax preparation or go to a paid tax preparer.
If you didn’t get your stimulus checks or didn’t get the full amounts that you are eligible for, you will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the first and second stimulus checks and a 2021 tax return to get the third stimulus check. Learn more about getting past stimulus checks.
Free in-person tax filing services
VITA and Tax-Aide are IRS-sponsored programs that provide free tax preparation for those who earn less than about $57,000. These programs prioritize accuracy. Free tax preparation programs have an accuracy rate of over 90 percent, the highest in the industry. The annual training that VITA and Tax-Aide volunteers undergo helps prevent the IRS from performing additional verification and reduces the time taxpayers spend to get tax filing mistakes corrected.
Tax-Aide is sometimes referred to as Tax Counseling for the Elderly or TCE. This program, frequently run through the AARP, primarily serves seniors, although, there is no age requirement to get tax help. VITA offers free tax preparation for workers regardless of age.
Due to COVID-19, many VITA sites offer limited in-person services. Some may offer drop-off or virtual tax services to continue assisting people with safe tax preparation. Call your local VITA program to see what services they provide.
With drop-off service, you’ll be able to drop off your tax documents and any pre-filled forms at a secure location. Then, an IRS-certified VITA volunteer will work on your tax return. You will be contacted to return to the VITA site to review and sign your tax return after it has been prepared. It will then be submitted to the IRS.
With virtual tax service, you will submit your tax documents online. An IRS-certified VITA volunteer will review your documents and contact you to obtain additional information to complete your tax return. Your tax return will be sent back to you for review before it is filed electronically with the IRS.
With both services, the process will depend on the location, so contact your local VITA site for more information.
VITA and Tax-Aide also can connect you with other financial resources. Review this document to see the services provided and what to bring to tax appointment. To find a site, visit the IRS’ site locator.
Free virtual tax filing service
Code for America, in partnership with VITA, has created a fully virtual intake process for free tax assistance. In light of COVID-19, Code for America’s Get Your Refund service is a free and safe alternative to prepare your tax return without the risk of in-person interaction.
Visit Get Your Refund to connect with an IRS-certified volunteer who will help you file your taxes. First, you will upload your tax documents online. Then, an IRS-certified volunteer will call you to discuss, prepare, and review your tax return for filing.
Code for America’s Get Your Refund service is free for those who earn less than about $66,000. This is a good option if you are comfortable using technology, including sending pictures or documents electronically.
Free online tax software
Online free tax preparation offers a convenient and reliable way to file your taxes.
If you’re comfortable using computers and confident preparing your own taxes, consider using a free online tax software.
MyFreeTaxes is an easy online tool that helps you file your taxes for free. The site offers free step-by-step guidance to filing taxes as well as help through an online chat. Tax filing is free for both federal and state tax filing.
MyFreeTaxes offers a broader range of tax forms than most VITA sites. However, you cannot use this site if you have self-employment income. If you’re not comfortable using the website on your own, ask someone you trust to help you.
Another free online option is Free File Alliance, a suite of programs in partnership with IRS. You can find Free File programs on the IRS website. If you choose to use one of these programs, read the fine print carefully. Each program has slightly different criteria for their software. In addition, some companies offer free state tax returns, while others don’t.
How do I choose the right tax preparation method?
If you don’t feel comfortable using tax software or just want live support, free in-person or virtual tax preparation is your best option. You may be able to find tax support from your local free tax site or Code for America’s Get Your Refund service.
If you have self-employment income or make more money than the income limits for certain free tax filing programs, you can find a paid tax preparer or paid tax software. For paid tax software, use NerdWallet’s best tax software chart to compare options and find the best choice for your specific tax situation.
If you prefer in-person paid assistance, make sure to research your options first. Unfortunately, the tax industry is not regulated, so be careful when looking for assistance. Although many paid preparers are honest, some preparers take advantage of their clients by not disclosing their fees or offering refund anticipation products.
Preparing to file your taxes
This checklist (also available in Spanish) can help you prepare your documents for your tax-filing appointment. John Burton Advocates for Youth has also created a Tax Prep Checklist for Transition Age Youth.