Tax preparation is the epitome of a catch 22. If you decide to do everything on paper, you’ll end up wasting precious time on the whole process. With tax prep services, however, everything is much easier, but they come with an added cost – something that taxpayers are trying to avoid in the first place. That’s why it’s such a relief that almost all tax companies provide free versions of their programs, so that people with only simple tax situations can handle their taxes conveniently and, of course, for free.
Granted, these free solutions only give a taste of what these tax programs are capable of, but such software is known for having many faces, including the availability of various offers through which taxpayers can prepare and file tax returns without paying anything out of pocket.
The Best Free Tax Programs and Apps
Even if TurboTax is one of if not the most expensive tax prep service on the market, it doesn’t mean that there is no way to make use of it for free. In fact, just like with all tax software, there is an option to automatically or manually upgrade to a higher-tier version and only pay for the company’s services when it becomes due. However, there is also an entirely free version of TurboTax in which users can try out just what makes this program one of the best, aspects like its user-friendly interface, the thorough questionnaires, or the outstanding data security.
TurboTax Free Edition users are also able to import last year’s returns – even they were made by means other than TurboTax – as well as electronic W-2s. And if that’s not convincing enough, all TurboTax clients can use the stellar mobile app with W-2 capturing functionality – which helps reduce manual data entry – or opt for the basic IRS audit support without paying any additional fees.
There is no denying that E-file is a simpler tax prep solution, since not only does it sport an average albeit functional design but it also relies heavily on manual data entry. Despite this, it’s an ideal choice for those looking for free tax software because it’s capable of performing the most important tax-related tasks – and even more besides. For instance, there is no need to delve into each topic category to search for a specific form as the program has a convenient search bar with which the required document can be located in a jiffy. E-file’s software is even fully compatible with mobile browsers and goes beyond the usual data protection methods by assuring users that their data won’t be shared with third parties unless they pay service fees via refund deduction.
It’s with the fees that E-file shows its biggest advantage. While the company’s free tax software does lack important features like filing with dependents or a wider range of deductions, the base prices of its paid products are customer-friendly – especially when considering the option to reduce those fees by applying temporary discounts.
And saving the best offer for last there’s FreeTaxUSA, which delivers exactly what its name promises: the option to prepare and file federal tax returns without the need to pay a single dime. But incredibly its cost-free nature is actually ‘just’ the icing on the cake as the software itself is surprisingly more than just a basic tool. It has a simple yet intelligently organized interface with drop-down menus that properly mark which topics have already been visited or completed, but it also provides clever add-ons like a bookmarking tool and built-in glossaries that help make the preparation process much smoother. The advantages don’t stop there either, because FreeTaxUSA is also equipped with refund maximizers to ensure the highest possible amount of refunds and a number of settings to enhance the account’s security even further.
It’s worth adding, though, that state returns, the pay-by-refund option, and upgrading to Deluxe – which provides priority support and IRS audit assistance – all come with respective price tags. However, even by combining these prices, you will never pay more than $40.
Best Tax Software of 2020
Limitations of Free Tax Software
Admittedly, using tax software is always free of charge, making it an effective method for calculating accurate tax refunds but unfortunately if it is then used to file those calculated returns, then only a select type of user can truly enjoy tax prep solutions completely for free. The main reason behind this is that even if innovative features like W-2 capturing with the mobile app or importing data from returns created by competing software are included by default in most products, the free versions of tax programs usually provide only the most basic features. This means that you can say goodbye to many credits and deductions, but in most cases you won’t even be able to import last year’s return from the previous edition of the program either. It’s worst for taxpayers with more complex tax situations, however, who have no choice but to opt for paid programs.
Thankfully, these complex tax situations can still usually be covered by the most basic paid products, the cost of which is around $30-$40. Still, there are certain means of using paid tax programs for free since it’s possible to deduct the prep fees from your earned tax refund. Granted, this is cheating a bit because technically whichever software you use still needs to be paid for, however this method means that in exchange for reducing the amount of expected refunds there is no out-of-pocket expenses.
Free Tax Calculators
While it is easy to end up being stuck with tax situations that aren’t covered by free tax software at all, there is actually an alternative plan to consider: using free tax calculators available at many of these tax companies. Although these calculators are nothing more than simplified versions of tax software – asking for only basic information like personal data, income, deductible expenses, and any credits that you’re eligible for – they still use the same thorough tax database, resulting in an accurately prepared estimation of your refunds or taxes to be paid. As a matter of fact, a tax calculator is a perfect tool for those who prefer to fill out forms manually after having them downloaded from the IRS’s website since it’ll still help them to speed the preparation process up.
It’s still worth remembering that while tax calculators are viable alternatives to paying for tax software, it’s perhaps worth the low cost of tax prep software for just the convenience. The issue with tax calculators is their biggest shortcoming, namely the fact that they are nothing more than calculators. Simply put, their only purpose is to reveal just an estimated, potential amount of refund due or tax to be paid, whereas tax software can be more accurate and can then even be used to prepare the necessary forms and then file it to the IRS with a single click.