Online Tax Preparation for Free

Many of us need to consult a tax preparer in order to complete our taxes. But there also many people who prefer to take on the task themselves, and save money on the preparation fee. If you fall into this category, there are some good online tax preparation programs you can access online that let you complete and file your taxes for free. Most of the options are for those with a 2015 household adjusted gross income of under $62,000. But there are also options for those with higher incomes.

If your household?s 2015 adjusted gross income was below $62,000, you can prepare and file your federal return for free using online, guided software through IRS Free File, a program offered by the Internal Revenue Service.

After you click on the link, follow these steps. Click on the blue “Start” button on the Web page to see a listing of 13 companies that let you file online for free. Since all have different eligibility rules, you’ll have to sift through them to see which works best for you. You can also click on the “Help find me Free File software” tool option to winnow down the best programs for your needs.

Before going to IRS Free File, though, check the online tax preparation website of the taxing authority in your state to see how to qualify for free preparation and filing of your state income tax return. You may have to start there first to prepare and then e-file everything for free. In New York State, for instance, eligible taxpayers must start at the state?s free filing Web page to be linked to the appropriate online tax preparation software, which then handles both state and federal returns for no cost. This year, just two companies are participating in the New York program: Online Taxes and MyFreeTaxes, sponsored by the United Way.

Alternative Tax Preparation Programs

If your state doesn’t offer free e-file, you may find alternative online tax preparation services outside of the Free File program.

TaxAct’s Online 2015 Free Edition, for example,?covers IRS Forms 1040A and 1040EZ, as well as a number of common tax documents such as Form 1095-A and the Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. TaxAct says it offers free support via e-mail for tax questions.

While it may be challenging, smartphone savvy taxpayers can prepare and e-file both state and federal returns for free on their iPhones and Androids with?TaxACT Express?software. The service covers Form 1040A, 1040EZ, simple versions of Form 1040, and a few IRS schedules, such as Form 1099-INT and 1099-DIV, and Schedule EIC for the Earned Income Credit. (TaxACT warns that if you switch over to a browser or tablet app to finish and e-file your form, you’re subject to TaxACT’s online pricing.)

TurboTax’s Federal Free Edition?offers free, guided online tax preparation service and e-filing for both federal and state returns, regardless of your income. To qualify, though, you must use IRS Forms 1040EZ or 1040A. The free service will import your W-2 information from participating employers. Or, you can photograph your W-2 on your smartphone using the TurboTax app; the app will automatically populate your tax form with the proper figures. You can then continue to prepare the form, either on your phone or your computer. For other services, including transferring your data from a prior return prepared using TurboTax, you’ll have to upgrade to one of the company’s other software versions, for a price. (See?our review of H&R Block and TurboTax Deluxe online editions.)

Which tax preparation software do you use?

The H&R Block Free Edition?doesn’t offer free state filing, but it appears to have the best value proposition for federal forms. In addition to free preparation and filing of basic federal forms?1040A, 1040EZ, and simple 1040s?users get free, “live, personal tax advice with a tax professional” via chat and free “in-person audit support.” The free edition supports a wide number of forms and schedules. Like TurboTax, the service will automatically import data from your W-2; it also will import Form 1095-A from your health insurance marketplace. But state tax preparation and filing will cost you $10.

H&R Block is repeating its “bonus” offer from last year for all users. For every $100 of tax refund that Free or Basic edition users load onto a participating retailer’s gift card, H&R Block will add 5 percent. (It adds 10 percent if you upgrade to another H&R Block product.)

Something worth noting:?TaxSlayer is offering its state and federal preparation and e-file services at half price for active military personnel.?If you’re not active-duty military, you can still prepare and e-file the simplest, Form 1040EZ for free with TaxSlayer. You can do the same with another program,?e-Smart Tax. Both require extra for state tax preparation and e-filing. Unfortunately, the price to prepare and file a state form with e-Smart Tax’s has risen this year to nearly $26, up from just under $10 last tax season.

Free Options for Wealthier Filers

If your household adjusted gross income is above $62,000 and you need to prepare and e-file a regular Form 1040 and accompanying schedules, you should also consider the software from?TaxAct. It offers the widest array of IRS forms and schedules that can be prepared and filed for free. Preparing and e-filing state tax forms on a browser (as opposed to via smart phone) costs $10.

If you don’t need help filling out your forms, the IRS also offers free, “fillable” electronic versions of Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ to all taxpayers, regardless of income.

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