Free Tax Filing Options for 2019

Category: Finance

It's tax time, but the good news is: about 70% of U.S. taxpayers can get free tax preparation and e-filing this year. The bad news is: you have to pick your online tax service very carefully. Here's what you need to know...

Options for Free Tax Return Preparation

Dozens of firms now offer free online tax preparation and e-filing. It’s not just for simple, wage-only taxpayers anymore; full 1040 returns with all schedules and worksheets can be prepared and filed online for free, prior to the tax filing deadline of April 15th. But there are a few caveats.

Most people with an adjusted gross income of $64,000 or less can get free online tax preparation software and e-filing, through a participating IRS Free File provider. However, the multitude of offers has more rules, exceptions, and confusions than cellular phone service contracts.

TurboTax Free Edition offers free Federal and State returns, but is intended only for very simple returns that can be filed on form 1040EZ or 1040A. This version lets you take a picture of your W-2 with a smartphone, and will automatically import that info into your return. Situations not covered in TurboTax Free Edition include itemized deductions (Schedule A), business or 1099-Misc income (Schedule C), stock sales (Schedule D), rental property income (Schedule E), and the student loan interest deduction. Various paid upgrades are available for those who have those tax issues.

Free tax filing software 2019

With H&R Block's Free Edition both Federal and State returns are free. In contrast to the TurboTax offering above, H&R Block's freebie can be used by filers with mortgages and deductions such as child and dependent care expenses, student loan interest, and health coverage exemptions. They also have the same W2 import features, and they make it easy to switch from other tax preparers. Just drag and drop your return from TurboTax, TaxAct, Credit Karma, etc.

TaxAct FreeFile offers free federal and state returns, but you must have an adjusted gross income of $55,000 or less, be 56 or younger, and eligible for the earned income tax credit (EITC). For active military the income requirement is $66,000 or less.

FreeTaxUSA Free Edition has no income or age restrictions, and supports even complex returns. If you own a home, are self-employed, or have investment income, FreeTaxUSA has you covered for the Federal return. State returns cost $12.95 extra. If you used as different program last year, FreeTaxUSA can import your information from TurboTax, H&R Block, or TaxAct.

Credit Karma is one of those sites that helps you monitor your credit score, but they also offer free tax preparation for both federal and state returns. It's easy to import the previous year's return if you filed with H&R Block, TurboTax or TaxAct, and tax specialists are available to help with your tax questions at no charge.

Canadians can use SimpleTax, a CRA-certified and web-based tax prep service that lets you pay what you want, or pay nothing.

Choosing a Free Online Tax Service: The IRS Wants to Help!

Is your tax situation simple or complex? Should you file Form 1040 (the long form) or use the short form 1040-EZ or 1040A? It depends on your marital status, dependents, income, deductions, and a few other factors. The IRS has a guide to figuring out which form suits your needs.

The IRS devoutly prays that you will file electronically (much easier to audit your return that way), so it makes a pretty good effort to help taxpayers find a compatible online tax preparation and filing service. Just hop over to the agency’s Free File Software Lookup Tool page and answer six simple questions.

Beyond finding a service that will do the Federal and State returns you need for as little money as possible (ideally, free), it’s impossible to say whether one online tax service will save you more money than another. Each has a unique approach to “interviewing” filers, asking different questions in different ways to elicit data about deductions, credits, and so on. A taxpayer’s answers may differ depending on how a qualifying question is asked. So you may get different results (for example) from TurboTax than you will get from H&R Block.

Thanks to the power of “free,” you could try multiple online tax services and actually e-file with the one that yields the most favorable answer. But that would be like having multiple teeth drilled for free and filling the one that hurts the most. If your tax situation isn’t very complicated, then any variance between online services should be negligible. Look for one that offers free Federal and State returns and e-filing.

The Do-It-Yourself Option

If your income or age disqualifies you from using one of the free online tax prep services, you can still get free tax software in the form of FreeFile Fillable Forms. These online versions of every IRS form won’t give you advice or hold your hand; you need to know what forms you need. On the other hand, if you know your tax situation well then you don’t need to waste time on all the hand-holding that novice-oriented tax programs provide.

These forms are “intelligent” in that they can perform basic math, e. g., totaling all of the lines of data you enter in a form, multiplying dependents by exemption amount, etc. But they don’t offer advice and explanations as the pricey programs do. This seems like a good option if your job and financial situation hasn't changed since last year. Just look at last year's tax return, see which forms you filed, and you should be good to go.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program offers free tax preparation to people 50 and older, even if you're not an AARP member. Tax-Aide has more than 5,000 locations in neighborhood libraries, malls, banks, community centers and senior centers, staffed with IRS-certified volunteers who will assist with your returns.

There are still many taxpayers who haul shoeboxes full of receipts to a tax preparer’s office, and there may be a handful who still struggle with paper and pencil five minutes before the April tax return filing deadline. But the majority of Americans now do their own taxes using software, and for the savvy ones there is no need to pay for tax software. That said, if you have a complicated return or you own a small business, a competent CPA or professional tax preparer may end up saving you money, even if you have to pay for their services.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Free Tax Filing Options for 2019"

Posted by:

K. Wayne
05 Mar 2019

Only one revised 1040 tax form to complete and file this year. 1040A and 1040EZ were eliminated.

Posted by:

Paul Roberts
05 Mar 2019

I'm an AARP TaxAide counselor and we will do free tax returns for people of any age. There is no longer an age minimum or an income cap.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2019

Any idea which tax preparers sell our information to recover their costs? Name, address, SS number, annual income, etc. would be worth a lot.

Posted by:

Terry Hollett
05 Mar 2019

I do my own here in Canada using a Free program called StudioTax 2018. I not a tax expert but I've had no problems with this program. Been using it a few years now. The Canadian government usually offers a list of approved software for doing this job. It's available from here

Posted by:

David Clary
05 Mar 2019

Tried several. None were free at the end and the state tax owed (AZ) was different on each of the three. Very odd. My taxes are pretty simple, retired pension, SS, and bank interest. Married filing joint, both over 65.

Posted by:

Mike McLaughlin
05 Mar 2019

I'm also a Studio Tax user and have been very satisfied with it since 2008. Even this year with the added complexity of me (a Canadian) now drawing US Social Security and withdrawing funds from a US based IRA it has the cross border tax implications covered.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2019

I go to Marvin the Magician. He does wonders with my taxes.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2019

I go to Marvin the Magician. He does wonders with my taxes.

Posted by:

Greg C
05 Mar 2019

In Canada I have used NetFile online for many years. It costs less than $25 for wife & I . The service retains records and uses previous year as a template. While I know there is a cost to maintaining year after year of records, I am annoyed to see that the packaged version for 6 returns is often on sale for less than $30 !. Considering that the retail location has to make a profit and there are packaging costs, it seems that the online price is at least twice what it should be.

Posted by:

Dave H.
05 Mar 2019

The IRS's Free File Lookup Tool you cited does not include Credit Karma. After years of using TaxAct and having them repeatedly "up the ante" (i.e., cover fewer forms in each tier, requiring the filer to upgrade to the next pricier level in order to file the same forms as the previous year), I used the Credit Karma tool this year and was satisfied. It was completely free for both state and federal, AND they actually responded to e-mailed questions requesting help.

Posted by:

Brian B
05 Mar 2019

".you could try multiple online tax services and actually e-file with the one that yields the most favorable answer.."

There should only be ONE ANSWER. That just goes to show that none of them know what they're doing.

Posted by:

06 Mar 2019

Brian - I think what you are seeing is the operator at the keyboard is the problem. I may be wrong, but I think with the same input data, all of the programs mentioned, should give you the same answer.
Go to AARP Tax-Aide and get it done by an IRS-certified counselor and done correctly! Can't beat the price and service.

Posted by:

06 Mar 2019

With all the tax changes this year you are better off finding a local independent tax professional to get your taxes done right.

Posted by:

Jack Kahn
15 Apr 2019

The following statement is only partially accurate: " With H&R Block's Free Edition both Federal and State returns are free. In contrast to the TurboTax offering above,"

H&R Block charges $29.99 plus $2.34 state sales tax for the Arizona state return. The federal return is totally free.

Bob, what is the source of your information? Thank you.

Posted by:

Ira L. Jacobson
01 Aug 2019

I once worked with a fellow who used to go to the local IRS office, where a clerk would help him fill out his return. He would repeat this several times and then actually file the return that was the best for him.

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