How To File Taxes For Free (Or Save Money If You Can’t)

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It’s that time of year again – tax season. In this post, I’ll show you how to file your taxes online for free or save money completing your tax return if you don’t qualify for the free options.

It’s tax time, let’s do this!

2021 Tax Season – Read This First

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 tax season to file your 2020 taxes is starting a little late. The first date that you can submit your taxes is February 12, 2021.

This gives companies additional time to send your tax forms. It also allows the IRS a couple more weeks to program and test their systems following last minute tax law changes enacted by the Biden administration (the second round of stimulus payments and other benefits).

How To File Your Taxes

There are really only two ways to file your taxes: filing by paper and filing online.

Okay, there is a third option. You can go to a tax preparation company like H&R Block, but I won’t go over this here. Most people have pretty simple taxes and the extra fees these companies charge aren’t worth it.

That leaves us with the options of filling it by paper or through an online tax site. I’m all for doing things that make life easier. For filing income taxes, the easy method is to do it online… by a long mile.

If you’ve never filed your own taxes before, it can seem pretty intimidating. But have no fear! The online tax products available walks you through each step in layman’s terms. Your ninja grandma can do it (and she probably does).

Some may still be tempted to do it with a paper and pen so I’ll go over that option briefly (you’ll probably change your mind after reading how insane the process is).

File Your Taxes By Mail

If you prefer doing your taxes on paper forms and sending them via postal mail, that’s certainly available.

You need to download Form 1040 and print out a physical copy. Form 1040 is used by U.S. taxpayers to file an annual income tax return.

There are also additional Schedules (forms) you need depending on your situation. Here are a few examples of Schedules you might use:

IF YOU…THEN USE
Have additional income, such as unemployment compensation, prize or award money, gambling winnings. Have any deductions to claim, such as student loan interest deduction, self-employment tax, educator expenses.Schedule 1
Owe other taxes, such as self-employment tax, household employment taxes, additional tax on IRAs or other qualified retirement plans and tax-favored accounts, AMT, or need to make an excess advance premium tax credit repayment.Schedule 2
Can claim any credit that you didn’t claim on Form 1040 or 1040-SR, such as the foreign tax credit, education credits, general business credit. Have other payments, such as an amount paid with a request for an extension to file or excess social security tax withheld.Schedule 3

Not only would you need those Schedules, but each Schedule has additional Schedules. For instance, if you’re a gig economy worker (like an Uber driver or DoorDash delivery person), you have to download and print Schedule 2 because you’re self-employed, but you’d also need Schedule SE to fill in your self-employment details.

You can check out the IRS web site and see how many forms they have for tax filing purposes.

Crazy, huh?

Honestly, unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I’d highly recommend staying away from paper filing. The tax code is confusing, has too many forms, and you’re likely to make a mistake filling it out (which can potentially cause tax audit headaches).

File Your Taxes Online

Last year, almost 72.9% of individual tax returns were filed electronically.

No surprise here as filing taxes online is easy, convenient, and error-free thanks to tax software that calculates everything for you.

The convenience will cost you money, since the tax software companies need to make money from the service they provide. Buuuuut, you read The Money Ninja, so of course you came here to find out if there’s a way to file your taxes for free or at least get a discount on the paid options.

The answer is absolutely!

Here are the ways you can do your taxes online for free or at least save a little bit of money.

Option #1: File For Free At Tax Software Sites

You can file your taxes online for free if you have a simple tax return. A simple tax return are ones that include any of the following:

  • W-2 income (income from employers)
  • Limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV (e.g. bank interest)
  • Claiming the standard deduction
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
  • Child tax credits
  • Dependent tax credits
  • Education credits
  • Tuition and fees deduction
  • Unemployment income reported on a 1099-G

It DOES NOT include:

  • Itemized deductions
  • Business or 1099-NEC income
  • Stock sales
  • Rental property income
  • Credits, deductions and income reported on schedules 1-3, such as the Student Loan
  • Interest Deduction

If you fit this situation, you can use products like the TaxSlayer Simply Free to file your federal and state taxes for free!

TaxSlayer Simply Free ad
TaxSlayer
  • TaxSlayer Simply Free = Link
  • AGI = No Income Limit
  • Age = No Age Limit
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • Free State Filing Included? = Yes
TaxAct
  • TaxAct Free Online Edition = Link
  • AGI = No Income Limit
  • Age = No Age Limit
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • Free State Filing Included? = No, $4.95 Per State
TurboTax
  • TurboTax Free Edition = Link
  • AGI = No Income Limit
  • Age = No Age Limit
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • Free State Filing Included? = Yes

Option #2: File For Free With IRA Free File

Did you know that 70% of Americans can file their taxes for free online thanks to a program called IRA Free File?

The IRS Free File Program is a partnership between the IRS and many tax software companies that provide their products for free if you can answer yes to one of the following questions:

  1. Is your adjusted gross income (AGI) $72,000 or less?
  2. Were you active duty military in 2020 with an AGI of $72,000 or less?
  3. Do you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)?

If you’ve answered yes to at least one question, the following companies have tax software you can use to do your federal return free. Each company has its own special offers, including some that also offer free state tax returns:

TurboTax
  • TurboTax Free File = Direct Link
  • AGI = $39,000 or less
  • Age = Any
  • EITC = Included
  • Military = Included
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • State Filing = Free state return if you qualify for the federal return
TaxAct
  • TaxAct Free File = Direct Link
  • AGI = $63,000 or less
  • Age = 56 or younger; any age if eligible for EITC
  • EITC = Included
  • Military = Included
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • State Filing = Free state return if you qualify for the federal return
TaxSlayer
  • TaxSlayer Free File = Direct Link
  • AGI = $72,000 or less
  • Age = 51 or younger; any age if eligible for EITC
  • EITC = Included
  • Military = Included
  • Fed Filing = Any State of Residence
  • State Filing = AR, AZ, DC, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NY,OR, RI, SC, VA, VT and WV

Option #3: Save Money Filing Your Tax Return Online

So you didn’t qualify for the free options… bummer.

But look at it this way. You made too much money to file for free. That’s a nice problem to have!

Fortunately, there are still ways to save money to do your taxes. Tax software companies team up with sites like Fidelity or other affiliates to offer a discount on their products:

  • TaxSlayer = Save 35% off your federal tax returns [Link]
  • TaxAct = Save 20% off your federal tax returns [Link]
  • TurboTax = Save up to $20 off on TurboTax federal products [Link]

The Bottom Line

Let’s be serious. Tax time is like going to the dentist. People know it needs to be done, but nobody likes doing it.

Filing your taxes online can save you time, get you tax deductions you may have missed if you did it on your own, and avoid any mistakes that will cause the IRS men in black to visit your house for a not so lovely tax audit.

Most people can file for free, and if not, I showed you ways you can save with various online tax software companies.

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