How to File Taxes for Free

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Comparing The Downloadable Editions Of TurboTax, HR Block, and TaxAct

Tax filers have the option to choose downloadable products rather than using the cloud-based options. Theoretically, downloadable software may be more secure. The only direct risk of hacking is when you e-file your returns. However, these products aren’t risk-free. If your computer has malware, a hacker could steal your information from your computer rather than from a cloud-based server.

Also, we see a lot of issues of people failing to save their return, computers crashing, and more. As such, we typically recommend everyone use the online version.The downloadable function is the same as the corresponding online software, and they typically cost more. If you’re watching prices, you might have some luck shopping on Amazon.com. Choosing the downloadable software is almost always easier and higher-quality than buying a similar product in the store. Plus, Amazon sometimes offers 3% boosts if you choose to accept your return on an Amazon gift card

The best free software if you paid student loan interest or college tuition

H&R Block is not as easy to use as our top pick, but it lets you claim the college tuition and student loan interest deductions for free. Use it if you have only a few other forms to enter.

TurboTax Ease of Use

Preparing your tax return with TurboTax is a lot like sitting down with a tax preparer. The software walks you through the tax preparation and filing process with a series of interview-style questions.

As part of my review process, I went through the process of preparing three sample returns. Here’s how long it took me to get from start to filing for each one:

  • Single taxpayer, no dependents, W-2 income and the student loan interest deduction: 13 minutes
  • Married couple filing jointly, one dependent, two W-2s, Child Tax Credit and child and dependent care credit: 20 minutes
  • Single taxpayer, no dependents, self-employment income, federal and state estimated tax payments: 30 minutes

During the process, a banner at the top of the screen keeps a running tally of your estimated federal and state refund or amount due.

Embedded links on each screen offer tips, explain

Embedded links on each screen offer tips, explain different income, deductions, and tax credits.

If you get stuck along the way, you have the option of paying an additional fee and upgrading to TurboTax Live to get on-demand help from a TurboTax expert or CPA. When you choose this option, the tax pro will do a final review of your return before you file.

You can also pay an additional fee to move to Full Service and have your tax return prepared for you. Before filing your return, a tax pro will schedule a time to review your return with you.

While the software offers many tips to help do-it-yourselfers, including a bot (known as the TurboTax Digital Assistant), you won’t have access to hands-on customer service unless you’re willing to upgrade to TurboTax Live.

And that’s another aspect of using TurboTax you should be aware of: near-constant urging to upgrade your package. During the 13 minutes I spent preparing a simple return, I encountered no fewer than three offers to upgrade.

Throughout the tax preparation process, you’ll periodically come across screens encouraging you to upgrade from Free* to Deluxe, get help from a TurboTax Live expert, or add TurboTax MAX—an add-on package that includes audit representation, identity theft resources, and priority customer service.

In some cases, these upgrades can be useful. For example, if you could reduce your tax bill by itemizing deductions, upgrading from the Free Edition* to Deluxe might make sense. And if you legitimately want extra help from a tax expert, you may be happy to pay for TurboTax Live. Just make sure you need and want the upgrade before accepting the offer.

Some reasons you may want to upgrade include:

  • Your total itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction available for your filing status
  • You have self-employment or rental income, capital gains and losses, or other income, deductions or credits not covered by the Free Edition*
  • You don’t feel entirely comfortable preparing your tax return on your own and want help from a TurboTax Live or Full Service tax expert
  • You’re worried about an IRS audit or identity theft, and the peace of mind offered by TurboTax MAX is worth the extra $59 fee

Easy to file and get expert help — this app is where it’s at

The newly designed H&R Block Tax Prep app lets you do your own taxes on any device, with on-demand help from our tax experts if needed.* Import or upload your W-2s with ease, then prep at your own pace. Start for free and get your biggest refund possible, guaranteed.

Limitations apply. Visit our guarantees for more information. *Additional fees apply for expert tax help.

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Is TurboTax or HR Block better?

When it comes to cost, TurboTax is slightly more expensive than H&R Block, but its product is about the same. Both offer solid customer service, an easy-to-use interface, and clear instructions and guidance, though there are some variations between packages.

Beyond the free versions, here’s how they stack up on cost for the DIY online filing options (not considering any discount offers):

TurboTaxH&R Block
Deluxe$59$49.99
Premier/Premium$89$69.99
Self-employed$119$109.99
Additional state return fee$49$36.99

Comparing The Online “Deluxe” Tax Filing Software

The Deluxe pricing tier is typically targeted toward people who want to “maximize deductions and credits.” A lot of people think this means people who itemize their taxes, but many tax filers who take the standard deduction will still find that they need to upgrade to the Deluxe tier of their tax filing software for various reasons.

How to file taxes with TurboTax for free

Even though TurboTax has left the IRS Free File project, it does still have no-cost options. It is possible to file for free through TurboTax — but there are a slew of requirements you must meet.

For example, TurboTax Free Edition, TurboTax Live Basic, and TurboTax Live Full Service Basic are all free right now — if your return is simple. (TurboTax defines “simple” is defined as “Form 1040 only.”) These cover W-2 income, limited interest and dividend income, the standard deduction, the earned income and child tax credits, and student loan deduction.

If your taxes are more complex, including items like unemployment income, stock sales or rental properties, you’ll likely have to upgrade.

Assuming your situation is simple enough, you can file one federal and one state tax return without charge, but you have to move fast. TurboTax Live Full Service Basic — in which a tax expert does your taxes for you — is only free until Feb. 15. The free TurboTax Live Basic offer — which comes with live, on-demand expert help — lasts through March 31.

If you’re fine to file DIY, the TurboTax Free Edition will be “available the entire season,” according to a news release.

The deadline for most Americans to file their taxes this year is April 18.

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