How to File Your Income Taxes for Free (or at discount)

I remember the first time I filed my taxes. I was dropping something off at the post office when I saw tables full of cardboard boxes filled with forms with the now-familiar IRS eagle and scales logo. Tax season!

Those boxes were so intimidating. I was so scared of filing my taxes wrong and getting audited.

Fortunately, a friend of mine told me that I didn’t need those forms. There was software for that now and the software was really good.

I used TurboTax for many years before transitioning to an accountant when my business required it but looking back, that software was amazing, even back then! Can you imagine doing your taxes on one of these forms? All those boxes. All those complicated formulas. It’s amazing anyone gets it right.

Nowadays, software is even more impressive. They walk you through the process with real questions a human being would ask and then fill out the boxes for you. Then they compare the boxes for potential errors and ask you more questions. It’s truly amazing and totally worth the price. That’s the beauty of software!

What makes it even better is that if you qualify, you can get all the awesomeness of the software without paying a penny.

Why do companies offer this? They want to get your loyalty as quickly as possible, so they offer free tax preparation now in the hopes you will continue with them when you are no longer eligible for the free product. It’s also because it costs them very little to give this service (marginal cost) so it’s a good investment on their part.

Table of Contents
  1. Credit Karma Tax
  2. FreeTaxUSA
  3. Income Below $72,000
  4. Simple Tax Situations – Form 1040EZ/1040A
  5. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
  6. Discounted Options

Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma has been offering free credit scores for years and in 2016 they added Credit Karma Tax – a way for people to do their taxes absolutely free.

There is just one plan and it includes practically everything. There are no upsells or hidden fees and no income limit, unlike other free tax preparation.

They support a lot of forms and will probably we work for for you but there are a few exceptions. They aren’t able to do (full list here):

  • multiple state filings,
  • part-year state filing,
  • foreign earned income,
  • married filing separately returns in community property states,
  • or state filing without a federal filing.

So if you qualify (you probably do), give them a look.

(read our full review of Credit Karma Tax for more details)

FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA is a tax preparation program that offers a free and Deluxe version. If you have a simple, or even slightly complicated return, you can use their free program regardless of income. If you only have W2 income, minimal interest and dividend income, and only basic itemized deductions then you qualify. The Deluxe version is just $6.99 if you have a more complicated tax situation. (and State is $12.95)

If you have to pay, there’s a 10% off coupon code – FREETAXUSA10 (Thanks Thomas!)

We took a deeper look at FreeTaxUSA.

Income Below $72,000

The IRS has a Free File program that lets you use well known free tax preparation software from brands you recognize like H&R Block, TurboTax, TaxACT, and many more. Not every program is available to every income level and there are other conditions, but this is the definitive resource for finding the right provider for you. There are 13 providers on the page and the table lists the conditions of the free software.

Or you can use their tool to help narrow down the list of providers.

For example, TurboTax Free File Program has an adjusted gross income limit of $39,000 then it’s free. If you made more than $39,000 but less than $72,000 but were active-duty military, then it’s free. If you made more but qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit, then it’s free.

Simple Tax Situations – Form 1040EZ/1040A

If you have a very simple tax situation, you may get free filing if you qualify for the Form 1040EZ or Form 1040A, even with incomes above $72,000.

The Form 1040EZ is a single page with a little more than a dozen boxes. You can be married or single, have no dependents, an income of less than $100,000, and claim no adjustments. All the rules are on the second page. You can use tax preparation software for this if you’d like, it’ll be free, and the only benefit is that you’ll be able to import that information next year.

The Form 1040A is a two page form that is a little more complicated but not significantly more.

In both cases, many preparers will let you file for free.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

For those earning $57,000 or less, need additional assistance due to disability, age, or limited language, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) can help. You can find more about these programs here.

Discounted Options

If you don’t qualify from an income perspective or filing status, you might be able to get it through a tax preparer’s partner:

  • Active duty military: Many tax preparers offer discounts or free filing for active-duty military, such as TaxSlayer’s Military Discount Offer ($0 federal filing) and TurboTax military discount (currently free filing). If you are active, you should also check the Free File program because there are often exceptions to the income rules if you are active military.
  • Fidelity customers can get a $20 discount on TurboTax products. click here for Fidelity. Vanguard used to offer this but no longer does so.
  • Robinhood offers $20 off federal filing products on TurboTax for 2021.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping offers 1,000 points if you file your taxes with TurboTax going through their Shopping portal. This is valid for the Free Edition too.
  • American Express cardmembers may see a statement credit offer of $15 after a $40 purchase at H&R Block – check under Amex Offers & Benefits.
  • Many of the tax preparers still sell software. You can buy it from retailers like Amazon.com, Costco, and many others. It’s often slightly cheaper to buy the software versus doing it online because of the filing costs. For example, TurboTax Deluxe Federal + State Taxes is just under $40 on Amazon. TurboTax Deluxe on the TurboTax homepage is $30 + $35 per state filing. TurboTax Home & Business is just under $65 for the disc.

I will update this post with discounted options as they become available.

One final note, to get your refund as quickly as possible, remember to e-File and elect for direct deposit of your refund.

Once your return is accepted, your direct deposit is initiated in about a week. A paper check takes an extra day before it is sent, which means it’s several mor.

e days before it makes its way through the postal system and gets to your mailbox.

Then you deposit it and it’ll take a few more days to clear. Direct deposit will get you your own money at least a week faster than a paper check… plus there’s a zero chance it gets lost.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

Credit Karma Tax Review 2021

Credit Karma Tax offers a free way to file both your federal and state taxes. It includes business income and audit defense which are not features you will see in most free file plans.

H&R Block Review 2021

H&R Block has been doing taxes since 1955 and has 60,000 tax pros with an average of 10 years of experience. With their many service levels from complete DIY to online assist to fully in-person with a tax pro, you can be sure you are getting exactly what you need without overpaying.

How Are Dividends Taxed?

There are two types of dividends - ordinary and qualified. Ordinary dividends are taxed like income. Qualified dividends are taxed as long term capital gains. The rate you pay for long term capital gains depends on your income but will be between 0 and 20%.

TaxAct Review 2021: Same Tax Return, Lower Cost

While TaxAct doesn't have all the bells and whistles of other tax software out there it is generally cheaper to file with them. If you don't need extras, such as one on one support or audit assistance you may want to consider TaxAct. They offer a free version for simple returns and several other levels of service depending on how complicated your taxes are.

Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

    • Jim says

      I would keep an eye out for prices on tax prep company software packages, you’ll probably get the most discount buying one of those to do your taxes.

  1. Norman says

    Thanks for the information, and for reminding me that tax time is here so I need to stop procrastinating! Also, if you’re unsure of something regarding taxes, the IRS site (I recommend googling the topic and finding the results from IRS.gov) is a great resource that has answered many of my questions in the past.

  2. Abigail @ipickuppennies says

    Actually, TaxAct will do your federal taxes free. (At least, if you click through a cash back site, but I think it’s true in general.) We make more than the free file amount, and TaxAct did our federal free. Some other programs might do the same.

    Meanwhile, once you’re done your federal ones, you’re far more likely to just pay for your state taxes while you’re there. For $18 (minus cash back) I did.

    • Jim says

      The income levels for free filing will vary from place to place so if you don’t qualify at one place, you could at another.

    • Robert says

      Yes. TaxAct will do Federal for free regardless of income level but I think they charge for some of the addons and more complicated forms. I only need the basic so I’ve been using them. State costs may vary but this year TacAct filed my state for free (prior years had a charge).

  3. SHENTAI says

    These are great information, thanks!
    However, my case is different. I have moved to Asia couple of years ago, and couldn’t get my PIN from on line system, so I will have to file with paper form every year, mailed out to IRS but not sure if the mail had arrived or on time? I believe there are some people the same as me….
    Any better suggestion ?
    Thanks!

    • Jim says

      I’m afraid I don’t know what a better system would be, have you checked with the IRS to see what the policy is for international filers?

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