How to Do Your Taxes for Free

Filing your taxes probably isn’t at the top of your list of favorite things to do, especially if you have to cough up some extra cash on April 15. But whether you owe Uncle Sam this year or not, there are ways to file for free for the 2021 tax year. And given that the IRS found around 70% of taxpayers can file their taxes via free services, this could be a great option for you, too.

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Find out more about who can file taxes for free in 2022—for the 2021 tax year—and what options you might have for doing so. You’ll also find some information on what to do if you can’t use free tax filing options.

In This Piece

How Do I Do My Taxes without Paying?

The IRS offers a few ways to file your taxes for free via its partner websites. You can also use free tax filing options from a number of commercial tax software vendors. Here’s a look at some of your choices.

Commercial Tax Software

If your financial situation isn’t too complicated and you’re claiming the standard deduction, you may be able to use free commercial software. These services often provide a free federal filing option for simple filers, including those who have dependents, retirement income, or college expenses. That option allows filers to report tax information such as W-2 income, dependents, stimulus credit, and the child tax credit.

If your tax situation is more complicated, however, you may need to pay for a more robust service level. For example, child and dependent care expenses, mortgage interest, student loan interest, and other tax deductions may require additional help. You may also need to upgrade if you have special circumstances such as a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt form.

Free Tax Filing via the IRS Website

The IRS offers a free tax filing page, and you can typically start accessing the services linked on that page in January of each tax year. This page provides two basic options.

  • If your income is $73,000 or less for the 2021 calendar year, you can use free tax filing options with IRS partner sites. Some of these also provide free state filing options. You’ll work through your taxes by answering simple questions and the websites and software do the math for you.
  • If your income is more than $73,000, you can download free fillable forms from the IRS and prepare your taxes that way. This doesn’t include state filing, and you do need to be able to follow the instructions and do the math yourself.

But even if you’re eligible to file your taxes for free, you may not want to. Make sure you take a look at your income, tax bracket, expenses, and other tax matters for the year before deciding how to file your taxes. If you have certain types of deductions, filing for free could leave money on the table

If you don’t qualify for free tax filing assistance from one of the programs below and don’t want to take on the burden of doing your taxes yourself, you can use a tax preparation service.

Free Tax Help for Qualifying Individuals

If you’re unsure of how to do taxes yourself, you have special questions about issues such as pensions or military status, or you just need help but can’t afford an accountant, you might qualify for free help with your taxes. Here are some free government programs that might be able to assist you.

> Learn how to do your taxes yourself.

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

VITA is a program offered to individuals who make less than $58,000 per year, speak limited English, or have disabilities and need assistance with preparing tax returns. The tax preparation services are offered by volunteers who’ve been vetted by the IRS and passed tax law training courses. You can find VITA service locations via the IRS lookup tool.

The IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program

Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a program specifically for elderly tax filers—typically those 60 or older. The volunteers in this program are trained in tax questions around pensions and retirement. You can find a TCE service location using the IRS lookup tool.

MilTax from Military OneSource

The MilTax program is for active-duty service members, reservists, National Guard members, veterans who were discharged in the past year, survivors of service members, and qualifying family members. If you’re eligible, you can use DIY software option provided by the program and have access to CPAs or IRS agents who can consult with you regarding your taxes.

Is Online Tax Filing Really Free?

Not everyone can take advantage of all free filing options. The IRS divides many of its options by income. Private tax software companies that provide a free option typically do so for those who only need to file simple returns, or may only provide free options for federal taxes and not state taxes.

Free tax filing services may not be an ideal choice if you want to itemize deductions to further reduce your tax burden.

That means that if you need to add any schedules because you have income from contracts or sources such as rents or investments, you may not be able to use the free options. Free tax filing services may also not be an ideal choice if you want to itemize deductions to further reduce your tax burden. 

Choose the Tax Filing Method That’s Right for You

Everyone loves free stuff, but it’s important to choose a tax filing method that’s right for your situation and confidence level. If you’re not great with math or have complicated exemptions and deductions, you may be better off with a professional tax preparation service.

A quick note: isn’t a professional tax service and doesn’t offer tax advice. If you’re not sure about your taxes, consult with a professional to find out more. Reach out to a tax attorney or CPA, or use one of the free services above if you qualify. Taxes are an important financial consideration, just like budgets and credit scores, so you don’t want to make mistakes by being unaware of important information. 

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