How to File Your Taxes for Free
It’s time to finish your taxes or prepare for the next year. You have a lot of free tax filing options available through the government, either by a My Free Taxes Specialist (VITA program) or IRS Free File (Software or Fillable Forms).
Whatever free taxes option you choose, here are some of the things that you need to know to get started. This includes how to file taxes for free, in time, with the right service, and with all the items you need.
- When to File
- Preparing to File (Free Filing Checklist Below)
- Choose Your Free Filing Service
When to File Your Free Taxes
It’s important to know the tax filing deadlines and extension options because this will affect which resources are available to you. In general, April 15 of each year is the tax deadline, and you can access any free tax support options that you are eligible for from January through April 15. If you don’t plan to file in time, you will need to file an extension to an October 15 deadline. Then you would only be able to use some of the IRS Free File service options, and VITA tax specialists would no longer be able to help you. In 2020 only, VITA specialists are available online until October 15 due to COVID-19.
October 15, 2020 – Final Tax Deadline / Last day for Free Tax Filing 2020
In 2020, the general deadline for taxes was extended to July 15 due to COVID-19. But if you filed an extension in time, the final deadline is October 15. If eligible, you can get support from a VITA Tax Specialist online on myfreetaxes.org to help you.
January 1 – April 15 – Free VITA Tax Filing
VITA tax specialists are available to file your taxes for free within this timeframe. If you want to get your taxes filed for you need to set up an appointment in time. You can get started at myfreetaxes.org. Except in 2020, VITA Tax specialists are not available after April 15.
April 15 – Tax Day
This is the yearly deadline to file your taxes. If you aren’t ready by this date, you will need to file an extension on or before this day. If you are using one of the other free tax filing services (IRS Free File Software or Free File Forms) you may want to submit by this date. You can file an extension through the Free File options if you need to.
October 15 – Final Tax Deadline
This is the deadline for taxes if you filed an extension earlier in the year. You must finish your taxes by this day. You can still use many of the IRS Free File services for this date (be sure to check the specific service you’re interested in.)
Free Tax Filing
If you make less than $69,000 a year:
You may also be eligible to have a VITA Tax Specialist file for you for free. You can visit myfreetaxes.org and click the With Help button to explore this option. Myfreetaxes.org also has an option for you to file your federal and state taxes for free on Credit Karma software, with chat support. There are also free tax filing softwares available on the IRS Free File site depending on eligibility — but make sure your option allows you to do state taxes and make SURE that you go through the IRS site for the software, otherwise the company will charge you.
If you make more than $69,000 a year:
No matter your income, you can file your taxes (federal and state) for free using software on myfreetaxes.org. Simply select Own My Own. You are also eligible to file your federal taxes for free manually with the IRS Free File Fillable Forms — you’ll still need to find a way to file your state taxes, however.
We’ll help you choose the right product in a moment.
Preparation: Forms & Checklist
You want to gather as many documents as you possibly can in order to file your taxes. There are some forms you must include, and there are other things like receipts that help get you to get more money back.
You should expect to receive tax forms from any employer you’ve had for the year you were filing. This will come in the form of a W-2 if you were an employee, or a 1099 if you were a contract-hire. It’s illegal not to include all of your income when you file your taxes, but it’s also important to include everything because the forms will show if you’ve already paid taxes. If you didn’t get a form from an employer, follow up to get it sent to you. If you never get a form for income that you’ve received, that’s ok but you do still have to report the amount that you earned for those jobs. Also, things like interests on investments count as income. You must report these items too, when asked on the forms. The government can find out this information if you get audited.
Additionally, if you have your own business for part or all of the year, you’ll want to have a sense of what you earned, as well as what you spent, because while business earnings are taxable, business expenditures are deductible and can help maximize your return.
You might also get tax forms from a health insurance provider, student loan insurer, college, organizations where you’ve made a donation or other institutions. These forms help you to get tax breaks too. Be sure to save them when they come in the mail and enter them into your taxes. If you work with a VITA Tax Specialist, they will help you tally these and think of other items that might get you more tax breaks.
When you fill out your taxes, you’ll also be asked to list big purchases you’ve made or any work-related expenses like gas mileage or office space you might have rented. These also help to lower the amount that you owe. Include anything that you can!
Also, keep in mind that as you fill out your taxes, you may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or California EITC. Here is some more information tax credits and deductions. If you’re eligible for free help from a VITA Tax Specialist, they are specifically trained to help you get these credits.
Free Filing Checklist
Here are the documents you need for your tax return, no matter what service you use.
- W-2s for each job held in 2019
- 1099s showing other income
- 1098s showing payments on items like school loans and property tax
- 1095-A if you purchased health insurance through the Covered California marketplace
- Income or interest statements for savings account or investments
- Bank account numbers so your return can be deposited directly into your account
- Last year’s tax return (if you have it)
- Social Security Numbers for anyone listed on your taxes
- Birth dates for anyone for anyone listed on your taxes
- Optional: expense records such as childcare, business expenses, college tuition, charitable donations or cars you have purchased
Choosing the Right Product
There are multiple free government tax filing services. Your eligibility will mostly depend on your income level. Anyone can use the IRS Free Fillable Forms, but if you’re eligible for another free service, it’s best to get the most support that you can.
SUGGESTED: My Free Taxes – VITA Tax Specialist or Free DIY
Income Level (Specialist): $55,952 or less, or persons with disabilities, senior citizens and limited English speakers
Income Level (DIY): Any income
My Free Taxes gives you access to an IRS-certified volunteer specialist who will do your taxes for you. Yep! They can help you secure all the tax credits available to you, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the California EITC and the Child Tax Credit.
- Virtual Visit. If you want help because you are normally someone who goes in person to an accountant or to a paid tax prep site, you can get that same attention and customer service for free through myfreetaxes.org. You just have to choose “With Help” and you’ll get connected with a VITA volunteer specialist. The specialist would normally sit down with you in person, but dude to COVID-19, this will be done over a video conference.
- Online by yourself. If you want to file your taxes all on your own the site has free DIY software and a chatbot that’s available 24/7 to answer all of your questions. It’s like TurboTax, but free! (The site partners with Credit Karma.)
Note: Typically you would visit a VITA specialist in person, but due to COVID-19, the service is virtual via video conference. Make sure that you sign up in time to do your 2019 taxes by the October 15, 2020 deadline. After this date, specialists won’t be available until 2021.
ADDITIONAL OPTION: IRS Free File
The IRS has a program called IRS Free File. It is a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance and it provides free online tax filing. With IRS Free File, you have two options: brand-name tax preparation Free File Software (for lower income levels) or Free File Fillable Forms (higher income levels).
IRS Free File Software
Income Level: $69,000 or less
- Free tax filing for low income filers
- Easy to use brand-name software
- State tax options on some software only
- Offers the most commonly used forms
- You can only file your current year tax return
Learn more about Free File software options.
IRS Free File Fillable Forms
Income Level: $69,000 or more
- No age, income or residency restrictions
- Must know how to do your taxes manually
- State tax prep is not available
- Need to meet specific computer requirements
I’m Ready to File. What Next?
VITA Tax Specialist
Go to myfreetaxes.org and sign up to get help or fill out your taxes yourself online.
IRS Free File Software
Visit the IRS free file site and choose a software tool. (Make sure to go through the IRS site to get to the provider.)
IRS Free File Fillable Forms
To do your taxes using Free File Fillable Forms, click here.