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Free File can help those who don't usually file taxes get COVID payments and more

COVID EIP3 check mockup_IRS

Since the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was enacted on March 11, the Internal Revenue Service has distributed approximately 159 million COVID-19 economic impact payments (EIPs). Those deliveries come to more than $376 billion.

This third round of coronavirus pandemic payments, worth up to $1,400 per person, has been going out in batches. Recipients include taxpayers who've filed 2020 returns, Social Security recipients, and veterans and their families.

Still, there are some folks who aren't on the IRS' EIP delivery list. These are, for the most part, people who haven't file a tax return because they're not legally required to do so.

That, however, means the IRS doesn't know about them or where to send their EIP. The only way to get in the EIP line is to file a 2020 tax year Form 1040.

Advantages of filing a tax return: Your return filing also could reveal that in addition to qualifying for an EIP, you are eligible for other tax breaks.

Potential tax benefits include payments from the prior EIPs. If you didn't get the two disbursed last year, you can claim the amounts as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 return.

You also might be eligible for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

The filing also could pay off again this summer. If you're eligible for an advance payment of the 2021 Child Tax Credit, which was enhanced as part of the ARPA. The IRS is planning to start issuing these CTC payments of $300 a month in July.

File for free: And one of the easiest and cheapest ways to file is by using Free File.

The no-cost online tax preparation and e-filing option is available this filing season to anyone whose annual income is $72,000 or less. Nine tax software companies, including one that provides filing software in Spanish, are participating in Free File this year.

Free File taxpayer at lapt top

The IRS recommends looking for a Free File product that has a "no minimum income" option. And whatever Free File option you use, choosing direct deposit will get you your refund more quickly and also let the IRS use that bank information to deposit your EIP.

Among those who could find Free File useful are recent graduates now on their own, low- and moderate-income families and even those who are experiencing homelessness. As long as they have a computer or smart phone, Free File is accessible.

More personal, and still free, filing help: If you want a bit more personal help, look into a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program.

These nationwide tax-filing assistance programs, staffed by IRS-trained volunteers, also offer free or low-cost filing and e-filing services. Due to continuing COVID-19 safety precautions, most VITA and TCE programs are operating on an appointment -only or virtual basis.

VITA and TCE tax help is available at more than 11,000 sites nationwide. To find one near you, visit or call toll-free (800) 906-9887.

U.S. armed service members also can get filing help through MilTax. This free tax filing help is available through the Department of Defense and is the military version of Free File.

File by May 17: The bottom line is that if you haven't filed, do so even if you're not required by law to send in a Form 1040.

You don't have to rush to finish it today. Most filers get until May 17 to send in federal filings. (Check with your state tax department, too. Most, but not all, are following the IRS delayed 2021 filing season schedule.)

But do file something this filing season. That way, you'll get you in the IRS' system and on its delivery list for a COVID-19 economic relief payment. And possibly more.

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