Smart TaxesSmart Taxes

How to file your tax return for free

Taxpayers with simple returns have several free filing options, from using IRS forms online to getting help from tax prep firms at Wal-Mart.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 25, 2012 1:38PM

This post is by Jonnelle Marte at SmartMoney. with simple returns have several new ways to file without having to pay for help.


The average cost for having an accountant prepare a Form 1040 with a Schedule A and a state tax return was $233 in 2011, up 1.7% from 2009, according to the National Society of Accountants.


But the options for free tax help are growing. The Internal Revenue Service, for instance, offers Free File, a program that offers free tax-preparation software and other tools for taxpayers with low to moderate incomes. Through the IRS site, taxpayers who make $57,000 or less can answer a few questions about their income, location and whether they qualify for certain credits before selecting from a list of companies that offer free tax preparation software. The IRS also offers Fillable Forms, electronic versions of IRS tax forms, for people who are comfortable calculating their own taxes.


Some tax prep companies are setting up shop inside stores to give people free tax help as they pick up clothes and laundry detergent. Wal-Mart, for example, is working with Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block to set up 3,000 tax preparation kiosks at its stores across the United States. Jackson Hewitt is offering free Form 1040EZ filing at Wal-Mart through the April 17 tax deadline; H&R Block is offering similar help for free through Feb. 29.


In addition to the Free File program, the IRS also offers free tax help over the phone and in person for seniors, people with disabilities and non-English speakers. Last tax season, more than 88,000 volunteers helped prepare more than 3 million tax returns for free, according to the IRS.

Tax experts warn that filers may still find themselves with a bill if their tax returns aren’t as basic as anticipated. For instance, while some of the companies offering services through Free File also offer free state tax return preparation, other companies charge $30 or more per form for the latter.


People with other complications, say a couple who just had a child, bought a home or are taking several deductions and credits, may not qualify for the 1040EZ and might be better off paying for professional help to make sure they don’t miss out on any big tax breaks, says Gene King, a spokesman for H&R Block. “The advantages could mean thousands of dollars for certain taxpayers,” says King.


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Jan 25, 2012 8:25PM
TAX ACT FREE EDITION will handle most tax returns even if you file a SCHEDULE C for a small business.  The secret is to keep good records of every expense; both personal and business.  The software prompts you to the next question and will help you with a tutorial.

I have used TAX ACT for years and I have had capital gains and other items not as customary for everyone.  AGAIN it is about keeping good records and being organized!    
Jan 26, 2012 2:20PM

I've used for about 8 years.  It may take a small bit of time to set up initally, but once an account is set up, you simply log in to file next years return without having to go through the inital setup all over again.  Monte50 is right, records must be kept and organized but no matter how you file, shouldn't you be doing that anyway??


I've never had to wait longer than 2 weeks for my refund and in some cases it took only one week.


They do ask if you want to file your state return and they do charge a fee but just simply click "NO."  Pennsylvania has a free filing program, so I simply file with the PA Department of Revenue for free.

Jan 26, 2012 12:46PM
Sorry but they are not free online despite what the IRS says. ALL of the ones I tried wanted to be paid for the STATE part and would not allow you to only file the free federal one. H&R wanted 15 bucks to file them claiming the federal one was indeed free but you have to, HAVE TO pay them for the state one and they would not allow the federal one to be filed. It is not the 15 bucks , its the lie that says they will file for you for free and then don't. That was the same for ALL of them. Federal is free in the come on, but state? There ya gotta pay or they won't let you do the free federal one.

So NO there is no such thing as a free tax filing.

And I don't understand why you cannot file directly with the IRS online. You can print out the forms and mail them in but you cannot file online with the IRS or else I cannot find where it is on their website.

Jan 26, 2012 1:18PM

Yes, you can E-file free. It is on the site. It is not called Free File though - although close.. It is called Free File Fillable Forms. Follow the prompts to it. It is not restricted to the $57,00 or whatever most free e-files are limited to. You don't have to file the state as it won't ask you to - just the federal, or....

Go direct to free file fillable forms (I had put in the actual link but they denied my post initially - saying it was spam).

I found this site last year and used it. The only difference on this site to other ones that are income restricted is that it won't ask you questions for you to confirm you are putting in the right information. As long as you are confident of putting in the correct info, you won't have to pay a dime.


So far as filing state taxes free, most states have a free e-file independent of the federal.

Jan 26, 2012 7:22PM
To add to my comments on TAX ACT FREE EDITION.  If you owe state taxes; I live in TN and we only have state taxes due on investment income such as stock dividends and not bank interest or earned income.  It is called the HALL INCOME TAX.  The State of Tennessee allows you to complete the form on-line for free.  An exemption of $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for filing jointly applies to taxes on dividend income in TN.

My guess is that most state web sites provide a free filing for state income taxes just like TN does.  Check to be sure and if so, use it!

For those who have never filed with free software, give it a try and best of luck.  2012 is not a month old yet so start by keeping good records now for 2012 and keep things organized.  In 2013 you will be surprised at how easy it is to complete your tax return!!! 
Jan 26, 2012 11:46AM
I just fill out the forms and mail them in, though I think last year I was able to fill them out and send them in online. I itemize and have a business. It isn't that hard.
Jan 26, 2012 2:18PM
@Buzzramjet if you go to the website and choose one from the list then use the link it provides it will redirect you to that site where you can file for free. If you go to the site that is listed your self it will offer free filing but it will try to up-sell you other products. I used Taxslayer last year and it was free for Fed and state, I will be using it again this year. Hope that info helps
Jan 26, 2012 1:10PM
Actually, you can basically File for Free directly with the IRS. Check the link above for "Free Fillable Forms". I didn't qualify for the "Come-on" for all the free preparers, so I checked this one out last year. You fill in the forms (must check your own Math, though), and then submit them. No charge, but no State return either. And it can be as complicated (or as simple) a return as you need. Good Luck.
Jan 26, 2012 10:50AM
I tried this stupid bs a while back what a crock of booboo
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