Tax season for 2022 has ended for most Americans. However, if you didn’t have your paperwork together, or you couldn’t get your return finished, you had the option to file for a tax extension. That gives you until October 15th to prepare and submit your return. (Note: an extension only applies to the paperwork. If you owe taxes, you were still expected to pay them no later than April 18th.) The good news is that the IRS offers a program that allows most Americans to file their taxes for free without the help of expensive accountants or tax software programs. They call this program “File Free”.
What is Free File?
The IRS Free File program is a service that connects eligible taxpayers with commercial tax preparation software at no charge. Some providers also offer free state tax returns. Per IRS guidelines, this program is available to filers who have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $73,000 for the 2021 tax year. (Your AGI is your total gross income less qualifying deductions, such as the standard deduction, IRA contributions, HSA contributions and business expenses.) The IRS doesn’t have an age limit to use the program, but some tax software providers have more conservative income and age limits. For example, to use the FreeTaxUSA.com product, your AGI cannot be greater than $41,000, and TaxAct.com requires that users be age 56 or younger.
According to the IRS, roughly 70 percent of American taxpayers are eligible to use Free File. However, fewer than five percent of eligible taxpayers in 2020 took advantage of the Free File program. Many of these taxpayers paid for access to tax software or paid accountants to prepare their returns.
How do I apply for Free File?
The IRS makes it easy to access the Free File program. To get started on your tax return using this service, first visit IRS.gov/freefile. According to the IRS, “You must begin your filing option at IRS.gov. Going directly to a (tax software) company’s website will result in not receiving the benefits offered (on the IRS site)”. Once you’re on the IRS site, you’ll see a variety of offers from tax software providers. You simply choose the product that best matches your tax situation. The IRS even has a widget that will help you determine which offer is best for you.
(Note: you can only prepare your current year’s tax return using the Free File program. Previous year’s returns, if you haven’t prepared them yet, need to be completed using another program or by hand.)
Once you have chosen a software provider, you can click through to their website from the IRS website and complete your return, verify it and either print and mail it or submit it via the IRS e-file system. If you opt to file taxes online, you’ll get an email directly from the IRS saying they have accepted your return (if indeed they have).
Free E-File Providers
For the 2021 tax year, there were eight providers in the Free File program. Tax software providers that currently participate in the IRS Free File program include FreeTaxUSA.com, OnlineTaxes.com, TaxAct.com, TaxSlayer.com, FileYourTaxes.com, 1040Now.com, Free1040TaxReturn.com and ezTaxReturn.com.
Tax software heavyweights, Intuit (TurboTax) and H&R Block were part of the Free File program through the 2020 tax year, but they no longer participate in the program.
Additional benefit to using Free File
In addition to the obvious cost benefit (it’s free), there are several other good reasons to use the IRS Free File program. For instance…
- Each provider guarantees the accuracy of the return you prepare using their software.
- Each provider also offers some type of free customer service to answer any question you might have.
- The IRS prohibits providers from offering you any refund-related bank products while you are preparing your refund, such as refund anticipation loans.
How To File taxes on your own
Of course, you can also file your taxes for free without assistance, by picking up the forms at your local library or other civic building or printing the forms from the IRS website and reading the instructions online. However, US tax law is complex and ever-changing. It can be complicated for someone without a tax accounting background to complete the paperwork accurately.
Where’s My Refund?
The majority of American taxpayers are owed a refund after they file their tax returns. That’s because most Americans work for companies that deduct taxes from weekly, bi-weekly or monthly paychecks. Usually the deduction more than cover a worker’s tax obligation. So, what question do most tax papers ask the minute they’ve filed their return electronically or put it in the mailbox? “Where’s my refund?”, of course.
Traditionally, the IRS has processed tax refunds quickly if you filed electronically and slightly longer if you filed by mail. However, the events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the IRS to reduce staff, at a time when IRS employees have been charged with administering several sets of stimulus checks to Americans. The result last year was longer than usual wait times for tax refunds. This year, according to the IRS, 90% of taxpayers should receive their refunds within 21 days if they opt to have their funds deposited directly into their bank accounts. Paper checks and other refund options take somewhat longer. You can check on current processing times by visiting this IRS page.
If you want to keep track of the progress of your refund, the IRS has created a free app, IRS2Go, that will let you know the status of your tax return.
IRS Phone Number: Customer Service and Human Help
Although it may seem like filing your tax return is a one-sided conversation, the IRS does offer several options to get help and answers if you need them. For example, you can call the IRS customer service phone number 800 829-1040 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Recorded messages on more than 100 tax-related topics are available by dialing 800 829-4477. This number is also available 24/7, seven days a week.