Doing your taxes is no picnic. On average, it takes Americans 13 hours and costs $250 per return. Now, multiply that by the approximately 261 million federal tax returns the IRS processes. That’s billions of hours and tens of billions of dollars spent on tax preparation.
Hiring a tax professional relieves you of the time sink, though it might not spare you the cost. However, there are some ways around that for qualifying taxpayers.
And no, we don’t mean doing your taxes yourself, but if you go that route, be sure to choose the best tax prep software.
Here are seven ways to get your taxes done for free.
IRS Free File
Taxpayers earning less than $73,000 a year can use the IRS’s Free File, a service where the agency partners with commercial tax preparers.
The federal return is free for qualifying users, as are some state prep and filing. Roughly 70% of taxpayers are eligible for Free File, but only 3% use it.
Those participating this year (H&R; Block and TurboTax have left the program) are 1040NOW.NET, ezTaxReturn.com, FileYourTaxes.com, FreeTaxUSA, OLT, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer.
The guided IRS Free File is online. You can browse options or use the “look up” tool to find a provider. Ensure you have paperwork like income statements handy and only use the links from the IRS website to avoid any scams or nasty surprises.
IRS help for older taxpayers
Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is a volunteer IRS program that offers free basic help for those who qualify. It’s geared to assist those who are 60 and older. The program specializes in questions about pensions and retirement.
The IRS notes that the majority of its TCE sites are operated by the AARP. You can find a location closest to you between January and April online.
IRS volunteer tax assistance
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is another IRS tax program operated by certified volunteers. This one is for people who generally make $60,000 or less, those with disabilities, and those who speak limited English.
Volunteers with both VITA and TCE are often retirees who work with nonprofits that get grants from the IRS, according to the agency. And as with the TCE program, you can find a location closest to you online.
Be aware that complex tax tasks aren’t a good fit for VITA or TCE. The IRS has guidelines about what the programs can and can’t help with online.
AARP provides free tax help
AARP Tax-Aide helps taxpayers 50 and over who earn a low to moderate income, which itself means there’s an area where half the households make less than 60% of that area’s median gross income. Quite a mouthful.
You don’t need to be an AARP member to get assistance. There are also a few options for how you want to get help.
Among them are online-only preparation, in-person visits (by appointment), or walk-in visits where you drop off your paperwork and a volunteer prepares your return remotely.
Tax-Aide sites are open until April 18, but operating times vary by location, so check online.
Free tax help for military families
The Department of Defense has a free tax service for the troops and their families called MilTax.
It’s the only tax prep and filing software provided by the Defense Department for the Armed Services and is designed with military life in mind, including handling combat pay and multiple moves. MilTax also offers support 24/7.
Active-duty service members, spouses, and dependent children are eligible, as are National Guard members and reservists, regardless of their activation status. More eligibility information is online.
United Way’s MyFreeTaxes
MyFreeTaxes is a United Way program with the option to either do your return or have it prepared for you, though there are some caveats. For instance, you can only have your taxes prepared for you if you make less than $60,000 a year.
It can also take two to three weeks to have a tax return prepared, and the program offers limited support for handling self-employment taxes and no support at all for dealing with rental properties.
IRS free fillable forms
The IRS’s free fillable forms don’t cost anything, but you are going to be doing all the work yourself. On the plus side, this is a good option if you make more than $73,000 a year (unlike the guided Free File) and you’re familiar with filing.
On the negative side, there is no guidance beyond the instructions on the forms themselves, calculations are limited, and there is no state tax prep or filing.
Getting your taxes done — even with the “basic” version — can be costly in terms of money, stress, and time. But it doesn’t have to be. Free programs, some even sponsored by the federal government, exist to alleviate that financial burden.
And if you're getting a return this year, try to avoid spending it all in one place and check out these clever ways to use your tax refund.
April 15, 2023, is a Saturday, which means the tax deadline should be on the next business day, April 17. However, since the District of Columbia observes Emancipation Day on April 17, the deadline to file your tax return this year is April 18.