Best Free Tax Software
Everyone likes getting something for nothing. The word "free" conjures up many feelings, but it often has some caveats, usually in the form of lesser quality or service. When it comes to online tax software, free is common. Nearly every vendor we examined offers a free version, but again, those usually have major restrictions or are lacking in the features or usability department.
You don't necessarily have to spend money just so federal and state government agencies can make sure they collected enough taxes from you throughout 2019. After researching numerous online tax filing solutions, we recommend TaxAct as the best free online tax software.
To understand how we chose TaxAct, you can look at our methodology and a list of online tax software vendors on our best picks page.
TaxAct's free edition is almost aggressively free. At every turn, the company doggedly explains how its service is free. Although previous years required you to be filing just a 1040 with no dependents, this year's offering covers 26 different forms, making TaxAct's free e-filing option an excellent choice.
Sure, TaxAct's free online software is not as automated or user-friendly as its pricier competitors, but that doesn't mean filers are left in the dark. The company offers step-by-step guidance and free support. If you filed your taxes through a different program, like TurboTax or H&R Block, TaxAct gives you the option to import PDFs of 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ filings, making it easy to switch.
Free versions are usually lacking in the features department. We chose TaxAct because, even though it doesn't have all the nicer features of high-end offerings, it does provide a professional platform that's easy to use, accurate and, importantly, free.
Even though TaxAct's free product doesn't have all the add-ons that our other best picks offer, filers with simple tax returns can enjoy several features that make the process easier. Here are just a few:
- E-filing: TaxAct supports e-filing and submits your forms directly to the IRS upon preparation. You can check your e-file status through TaxAct to ensure prompt delivery of your tax forms.
- Refund estimates: The software calculates your refund (or the amount you owe) in real time as you complete your forms, giving you a clear picture of what you can expect this year.
- Past returns: TaxAct gives all users one year of online return access and six years of PDF access. Not only is this useful for personal records, but in the event of an audit, you have access to an archive with nearly a decade's worth of information.
- Free support: All plans under TaxAct include complete access to technical support, customer service and online help materials. These resources walk users through frequently asked questions or snags, and when a major problem comes up with the software, technical support is available even to free filers.
- Free mobile app: TaxAct includes access to a free mobile application for iOS and Android. However, its functionality is limited compared to the desktop version of the software.
The price for TaxAct's federal and state filing is as advertised: free. That being said, you may need to upgrade to one of TaxAct's paid plans if your tax situation is complex.
Filers who have college expenses, are homeowners or have other complex needs can look at the company's Basic+ option. At $19.95, this plan includes everything in the free version as well as things like FAFSA assistance, itemized deductions and phone support from a tax specialist. Services go all the way up to the Self-Employed+ tier, which costs $44.95 and has all the features of every other tier, plus support for freelance income and year-round tax planning assistance. Unlike with the free service tier, state tax filing costs an additional $39.95 per state on the Deluxe+ and Premier+ tiers and $49.95 per state on the Self-Employed+ tier. We found each plan's price to be competitive with other vendors' offerings.
TaxAct's customer service helped us understand this free tax filing product quickly and painlessly. We called the company posing as a small business owner looking for help and quickly received assistance. The representative we spoke with was upfront about the free version's limitations. Along with the phone support, you can reach company representatives by email. Every version of TaxAct, including the free edition, offers unlimited support.
During tax season (mid-January until April 15), the company's customer support hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT on Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT on Sundays. During the offseason, the company's customer service team keeps regular business hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.
All free online tax software has some limitations. Although we found TaxAct's free version to be better than most, it doesn't have the high-end features that you'll find in the best paid tax software, and it may not have some of the forms you need if your tax situation isn't so basic. If you need to file certain forms with the IRS and TaxAct's free version doesn't support those forms, you'll have to look elsewhere or upgrade to a paid plan.
Ready to choose your online tax software application? Here's a breakdown of the rest of our coverage: