Eager tax filers, especially those with relatively uncomplicated returns, can now take advantage of Free File.
The Internal Revenue Service and Free File Alliance of tax software manufacturers are open for filers. Just go to IRS.gov, click the File Your Taxes for Free line under How can we help you?" and you're there.
If you use a search engine to find free tax filing, you'll likely discover other options. You'll also probably get such offers in your email box. But the only official, IRS-sanctioned Free File option is the one on its website.
8 participants in 2022: This year, the available tax prep programs pool is a bit smaller.
But eight companies who were part of last year's Free File program are back for this 20th iteration of the filing season no-cost service. The eight are, collectively, this weekend's By the Numbers honoree. And they are, listed alphabetically:
|ezTaxReturn||Online Taxes at OLT|
|Free 1040 Tax Return||TaxSlayer|
Two of the companies, ezTaxReturn.com and TaxSlayer, offer Free File products in Spanish. There are buttons at the top of those pages you can click to change languages.
Be a careful tax shopper: Unless you've used one of these Free File programs before and are happy with it, shop around.
Also note that all of the Free File companies are allowed to set their own criteria.
Some can be used by folks who are at the top earnings threshold, which this filing season is $73,000. That's $1,000 more than last year. It also applies to all returns, whether they are filed by single, married, or head of household taxpayers.
But some of software providers have lower income requirements to use their Free File products. There also are various age and state residency requirements.
Free Filers' Rights
The IRS has an overall Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It also has guidelines designed to safeguard taxpayers who use the Free File Program.
The taxpayer protections under the Free File program are the right to:
State tax alert: Speaking of states, some of the Free File participants also offer free state tax filing. But not all.
So if you live in one of the 43 states or District of Columbia that this filing season require 2021 tax year returns from at least some of their residents, double check the state filing options offered (or not) by Free File companies.
Some do offer state tax return preparation. And some include it at no cost. But others charge a fee for the additional filings.
You also should check with your state tax department about free tax preparation and filing options. Most offer at least some form of free e-filing for their residents. This would mean going to different sites to fulfill all your tax responsibilities, but if you it for free, the added work could be worth it.
Military matters, too: Some Free File companies also offer deals to active-duty military personnel.
However, service members also will want to check out MilTax, the online tax services program for the military offered through the Department of Defense. MilTax online software will be available on Monday, Jan. 24, when the official 2022 tax season starts.
So, again, shop around to make sure you get the best Free File fit.
Early free filing as usual: This year's opening of Free File before the official start of the tax season is not unusual. The process actually works well for filers, software companies, and the IRS.
In advance of the official date (again, Monday, Jan. 24) when the IRS actually starts accepting and processing returns, eager taxpayers who have all the information they need to file can get that task out of the way.
The Free File software companies will hold those completed Free File returns until the IRS is ready to take them. On that date (one more time, Jan. 24), it will ship them to the IRS for processing.
Meanwhile, the IRS is putting its finishing updates into its systems so that it can handle the annual influx of 1040 forms.
Free option for higher earners: Even if you made more than $73,000 last year, you still can use a version of Free File.
The IRS is again offering Free File Fillable Forms. This is the electronic version of IRS paper forms and is open to any taxpayer regardless of income.
Here, the IRS takes the most commonly used tax forms and makes them online accessible. You select your Free Fillable Forms from the Free File page, fill them out at your computer and then, like the full Free File set-up, electronically submit them to the IRS at no cost.
Remember, though, there is no programmed tax software component in Free Fillable Forms.
Users of Free Fillable Forms must not only complete the forms themselves, but also have some knowledge of the tax laws so that they can do so correctly. If you're comfortable doing that and aren't eligible for the full Free File option, then Free Fillable Forms is a good alternative.
Free File Fillable Forms, however, is not yet available. Access to those forms will start when the 2021 filing season begins — say it with me — on Monday, Jan. 24.
You also might find these items of interest:
- 5 tax tips for Free File users
- Where to find your perfect tax preparer
- More on IRS forms and documents at Talking Tax Forms