Free File Options

Filing your taxes electronically is the safest, fastest, and most accurate way to file your tax return. If you choose to prepare and file your own return, the IRS offers you two ways to e-file your returns for free. 

Free File Software

If you meet certain income restrictions, Free File software allows you to use brand-name software to prepare and file your return. The program is available each year from January 15 through October 15.

You can use this option for 2016 tax returns if your income is below a certain amount, currently $64,000. However, each type of tax return software has its own restrictions, which may be lower. Make sure you qualify before you start using the program.

State Tax Returns: The Free File Software program is free for your current Federal tax return, but may not be available for your state tax return. If your state has its own income tax, you may need to do some additional research — some of the software companies offer free filing for state tax returns, and some states have their own Free File systems.

Free File Fillable Forms

No matter your income level, you can use Free File Fillable Forms. These are identical to IRS paper forms, so this option is very similar to the old “pencil and calculator” method of filing. However, the fillable forms don't come with any additional guidance. If you plan to use this option, you should be comfortable with the process of completing a return.

You may find more information on Free File Software and Free File Fillable Forms at Free File.

Prepare to File

First, gather all of your tax documents and information.

  1. Income Documents: Gather your income documents (IRS Forms W2, 1099 and any other records of your income and expenses) and remember to include the income even if you did not receive a IRS Form W-2 or 1099.
  2. Deduction and Credit Information: Home mortgage interest, property taxes, day care, and education expenses are common deductions and credits.
  3. Prior Year Tax Return: You will need the personal identification number (PIN) you used or the adjusted gross income from that return
  4. Social Security Cards:  You need a card for each person you’ll list on your tax return – having the card is the best way to verify you have the correct number or numbers.
  5. Birthdays: You will need the birth dates for you, your spouse and your dependents.

You can find more information on what you need to gather at IRS.gove Free File.

After you file electronically, you should get an email confirming that the IRS received and accepted your return.

If the IRS rejects your return

If the IRS rejects your return, you will receive an e-mail. Review your return for any mistakes or typographical errors – common mistakes are incorrect Social Security numbers, names, or dates of birth.  Correct any errors and e-file again.

If you are 100 percent sure your return is correct and the IRS still doesn’t accept the electronically filed return, you will need to file a paper return.

What if I need help?

If you have chosen to use Free File Software and are having trouble with the program, contact the customer service unit for the software company.

If you’re having difficulty with IRS Free File Fillable Forms, call the IRS help line listed on the Free File site.

Filing electronically is the safest, easiest, and fastest way to file your return. When you file electronically, you’ll get an e-mail confirmation of your return being accepted within 24 hours, and get your refund in about 21 days, often faster if you choose direct deposit.

The PATH Act, Section 201 made the following changes to help prevent revenue loss due to identity theft and refund fraud related to fabricated wages and withholdings:

  • No credit or refund of an overpayment for a taxable year shall be made to a taxpayer before the 15th day of the second month following the close of such taxable year, if the taxpayer claims the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit on the return. (starting Jan. 1, 2017)
  • This change only affects returns claiming EITC or ACTC that are filed before Feb. 15.
  • The IRS will hold the entire refund, including any part of the refund that is not associated with the EITC or ACTC.
  • Neither TAS, nor the IRS, can release any part of the refund before that date, even if you are experiencing a financial hardship based on the law.

If you meet the requirements, you might be able to have your return prepared for free at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) site.

Have a different tax issue?  Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex?  If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and are not receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting TAS.

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified February 16, 2017