By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
Less than two months remain before the April 15 deadline to file your 2012 taxes. Before you spend $200 on professional tax preparation or even $75 for a software program, take a minute to peruse the Internal Revenue Service website. There you’ll find more than a dozen companies, including big names such as H&R Block, that provide free online software and free federal e-filing to taxpayers who made up to $57,000 last year. Some also offer free returns for participating states. About 70 percent of taxpayers qualify for this Free File program, according to the IRS. The companies peddle free software on their websites as well, without restrictions, but beware the upsell. While taxpayers with complicated returns may need pricier software and a bit more hand holding, the best free programs dispense helpful advice and support a wide array of forms and schedules.
Below are Cheapism’s top providers of free tax preparation software with state filing fees under $20.
- TaxAct ($14.95 for state returns) limits its IRS Free File edition to taxpayers 18 to 57 with adjusted gross income of $51,000 or less. Consumers can also find a free edition on the company’s website that lacks such eligibility criteria. Unlike most other providers of free online software, TaxAct supplies a free download/CD version as well. Reviewers point to this as a selling point for taxpayers wary of submitting personal and financial information over the web.
- H&R Block Free File (free for many states, $14.95 for others) is not to be confused with H&R Block At Home Free, which appears on the company’s website and charges $27.95 for each state return. Consumers must go through the IRS website to find the Free File version. H&R Block consistently earns high ratings in expert reviews and includes features such as audit support and live tax advice from a professional even with its free software.
- ESmart Tax customers who access the software through the IRS can prepare and file some state tax returns for free and most for $12.95, compared with $19.95 through the free Basic Edition on the eSmart Tax website. Reviews note approvingly that this online-only software is backed by a retail tax preparation provider, Liberty Tax Services, and includes free audit support and live chat. It also speeds up the process and minimizes errors by importing data from W-2 and 1099 forms, as well as last year’s return if you switch from a big-name competitor.
- FreeTaxUSA ($9.95 for state returns) is a bare-bones program with limited customer support but may be all many taxpayers need. It actually exceeds the capabilities of some fancier free software by accommodating homeowners, investors, self-employed professionals, and taxpayers claiming dependents. Reviewers say the simplicity can work in your favor by making it less likely you’ll overlook something or make a mistake.
Taxpayers with adjusted gross income up to $31,000, active military who made up to $57,000, and anyone eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit can also get their hands on free software from market leader TurboTax through the IRS. The TurboTax Freedom Edition includes free filing for qualifying states and charges $14.99 for other states, vs. $27.99 per state with the Free Edition on the TurboTax website. The Freedom Edition also supports additional forms such as Schedule C for taxpayers who are self-employed.
Whichever you choose, don’t wait: Software providers hike their fees as April approaches, so you can’t count on the current prices to last for long.
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