IRS Free File is exactly what the name says

This program provides the bottom 70% of U.S. earners with zero-cost tax-filing services for federal returns. The IRS says Free File has saved Americans well over $1.7 billion in filing fees since its launch in 2003.

Here's how it works: If your income is $73,000 or less, you can file using a free version of popular name-brand tax software, such as TaxAct.

Each provider sets its own eligibility rules — based on age, income and location — but you'll have at least one option if your income meets that threshold. You might even be able to score a free state return.

Earn too much? The free software isn't available to you, but if you're willing to try tackling an old-fashioned tax return on your own, you can use "Free File Fillable Forms." (Say that five times fast.)

Note that while Free File itself is free, there can be related charges, such as a credit card fee if you use plastic to pay any taxes you owe, or a charge to file your state taxes with the same commercial tax-prep service.

Using Free File software

Happy man paying bills on his laptop in living room
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You use a free version of popular, commercial tax software.

If your income qualifies you for Free File software, go to IRS.gov/freefile. Choose the option best for you, and you'll be directed to click through to the company's website. (You can also save a step and go directly to the site of a provider.)

You'll need to have a copy of your last tax return handy, along with your W-2 and any other documentation of your income and deductions.

Never used tax software before? It's incredibly easy and goes step-by-step through your return by asking a series of questions to fill in all of the blanks. At the end of the process, you file your return eletronically.

The IRS says you save time and will get your refund faster, particularly if you opt to have the money direct-deposited into your bank account.

For 2022, the following providers are participating:

  • 1040Now.NET
  • ezTaxReturn.com (available in Spanish)
  • FreeTaxReturn.com INC
  • FileYourTaxes.com
  • On-Line Taxes at OLT.com
  • TaxAct
  • FreeTaxUSA
  • TaxSlayer (coming soon in Spanish)

Feel like something's missing? Two of the leading names in tax software have exited the program over the last couple years: TurboTax this past summer and H&R Block in 2020.

Using 'Free File Fillable Forms'

Person filling in a tax return on a computer screen
REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock
You fill in all of the lines on a tax return manually, on your computer screen.

The Free File version available to higher earners requires you to keep things somewhat lower-tech and fill in a tax return manually on your computer screen.

You'll also need to know what you're doing, including which additional forms and schedules to file with your 1040.

Fillable Forms won't make any recommendations, check for errors or allow you to make changes after filing. It also doesn't offer any state returns or federal returns for past years.

You still can file your return electronically and have any refund direct-deposited.

Taxes aren't getting any simpler, despite past promises that one day we'd all be filing on postcards. You're probably going to need help with your return — but don't pay for it if you don't have to.

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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