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The best free tax software for filing your taxes

Tax Day is almost here. That's why ZDNET rounded up the best free online tax software services that provide guidance and filing for those with simple returns.
Written by Kayla Solino, Associate Editor
Cash App Taxes | Best overall free tax software
Cash App Taxes
Cash App Taxes
Best overall free tax software
View now View at Cash App
TaxSlayer Simply Free | Best free tax software for W-2 filers with no dependents or deductions
TaxSlayer Simply Free
Best free tax software for W-2 filers with no dependents or deductions
View now View at TaxSlayer
H&R Block Free Online | Best free tax software for students and most filling needs
H&R block
H&R Block Free Online
Best free tax software for students and most filling needs
View now View at Hrblock
TurboTax Free Edition | Best alternative free tax software for simple filers
TurboTax Free Edition
Best alternative free tax software for simple filers
View now View at TurboTax
TaxACT Free Edition | Best IRS free file eligible free tax software
TaxACT Free Edition
Best IRS free file eligible free tax software
View now View at TaxAct

This year, tax filings and respective payments are due on Monday, April 15, though the IRS began accepting filings in late January. With the 2024 deadline approaching quickly (just two weeks out), now is the chance to check filing off your to-do list. Tax filing takes preparation, time, and careful attention, so understanding the tools available is key to completing your taxes with ease.

Using a tax preparation service or hiring a professional tax specialist is a great strategy if it's within your budget and time frame. However, many people don't know that there are free tax filing software options available online if you're looking to complete a simple tax file.

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No matter how you file your taxes, free tax software is available to help you check it off your to-do list quickly and efficiently. ZDNET rounded up some of the best free tax software options for simple filing that can aid you this filing season. Our pick for best free tax software overall is Cash App Taxes for its range of service options and smooth filing process, but check out alternative options and see how they compare for your needs. Remember, Tax Day is right around the corner. 

Pros & Cons
  • Comprehensive
  • No restrictions
  • Limited professional support
  • No upload income form options
  • App required
More Details

Cash App Taxes offers a free, online tax preparation program -- one of the most comprehensive available. The only catch is to start your filing, you must download the brand's mobile app, even on a desktop or personal computer.

Unlike other free tax filing software that may charge for state returns or certain deductions, Cash App claims there are no restrictions. You can file state or federal taxes for free regardless of the deductions or credits you choose. Cash App Taxes' biggest strength is its truly free status. While other "free" tax software offerings may hide their free version behind confusing marketing and situational restrictions, this one does none of the above. No matter what deductions or credits you possess -- from freelance income, crypto trades, retirement distributions, rental property income or health savings accounts -- Cash App can help you file your 2024 tax returns for zip.

Unlike other competitors, Cash App doesn't offer much professional support nor does it include the option to upload 1099 income forms, which can be a downside for some. But despite no professional tax or phone support at your disposal, the service provides substantial contextual and technical aid via live chat, which is likely more than enough if you're tax-savvy. 

So if you're pretty confident and comfortable with the tax filing process or have a basic return, Cash App is a top pick for filling a tax return for free. 

Pros & Cons
  • Free federal and state return
  • Limited credits and deductions
  • Only for simple returns
  • Income cap
  • Not for most people
More Details

TaxSlayer is not a new entity to the tax filing game. Like most commercial software, you'll need a simple return to qualify for free tax filing with TaxSlayer. The brand offers several tiers of services, but the free edition -- Tax Slayer Simply Free -- will work well for those with straightforward files.

TaxSlayer Simply Free allows users to prepare, file, and print a federal income tax return and one state tax return for free. However, this service is only offered to those with the simplest tax returns, such as W-2 income filers, as well as student loan interest and education expenses. Still, it does not include services for many other important credits and deductions. For instance, you can't claim the child tax credit or earned income tax credit.

Additionally, you will not qualify to use it if you made over $100,000 in income of any form last year (job, side hustles, or unemployment). 

And though Simply Free includes basic tax and technical support via email or phone, no other learning material or professional guidance is included. If you have a straightforward return and little to no claims, Simply Free could work for you, but many filers will need to consider Tax Slayer's paid options to get the job done. 

Pros & Cons
  • Longstanding trust and authority in tax field
  • In-person help available for extra $
  • Import tax documents from prior year
  • Includes more IRS forms than other software options
  • Not for freelancers or gig workers
  • Not for more complex filers
More Details

H&R Block has a longstanding association with filing taxes thanks to its many years of in-person services, but the brand has offered a way to file your taxes for free online for several years now. 

H&R Block's online software lets you import tax documents from last year and includes a federal tax return and one state return. The Free edition includes several common tax forms, including unemployment and student loan interest. 

This year, its free version includes more IRS forms than TurboTax, such as retirement income, gambling winnings, alimony, and stock options. However, freelancers and gig workers will have to look elsewhere for their filing needs, as will those who want to deduct business or child care expenses or claim dependents for free. 

H&R Block also offers different paid levels of tiered services, including in-person assistance at a local H&R Block branch or online help from a tax professional for an additional cost. It's a great alternative to software like TurboTax if you can use its free filing tier for 2024.

Pros & Cons
  • Easy to use
  • Authority in the tax space
  • For simple returns only
  • Not every customer qualifies for free edition
  • limited credit options
More Details

TurboTax is one of the top services for tax filing. Its free service brings the same expertise that has built a reputation in the industry. For those with W-2s and other simple taxes, like students, you can file your taxes for 2024 easily and quickly. 

Free federal income tax and state tax returns are available, and TurboTax Free Edition supports many commonly filed forms and schedules like unemployment. The free edition is primarily designed for filers with simple returns only (Form 1040), including those with W-2s with dependents or student loan interest. 

TurboTax Free Edition is designed for taxpayers filing simple returns only with limited credits (Form 1040), including those who receive W-2s with dependents or student loan interest. According to TurboTax, only 37% of all customers qualify for the Free Edition

If eligible, this free version will allow you to claim the standard deduction, earned income tax credit, student loan interest deduction, some capital gains and losses, and the child tax credit, but nothing more intricate or complicated. (The Federal Trade Commission recently ordered that TurboTax's parent company Intuit can no longer market its services as "free" without disclosing details about who qualifies.)

Suppose you are ineligible to file for free with TurboTax. In that case, you may want to see if you can file for free through another option, such as IRS Free File, H&R Block Free Edition, or FreeTaxUSA for federal filing. 

Pros & Cons
  • IRS Free File partner
  • Import tax documents from year prior
  • More restrictive eligibility
  • Fee for state return for non-supported states
More Details

TaxACT offers free federal tax filing for a wide range of individuals, such as filers claiming dependents, unemployment income, college expenses, or retirement income. It's one of the services approved for free tax filing by the IRS for 2024. To qualify for the service, you must be between 20 and 58 years old or military personnel with an adjusted gross income under $79,000.

With TaxAct Free, you can easily import your filings from previous years, and critical tax forms like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are included in its free tier. Unemployment income and dependents are also covered.

In addition to complementary federal filing, TaxACT provides free state tax returns for AR, IA, ID, MS, MT, ND, RI, VT, WA, and WV if you qualify for a free federal return. State returns for non-supported states will cost you $40 per state.

What is the best free tax software service?

The true "best" tax software service will ultimately come down to your individual needs for tax filing. What may be the best service for you might not be best for someone else. However, Cash App Taxes offers free tax filing for the broadest range of solutions, credits, and deductions. 

See how ZDNET's top picks compare against each other, and check out if one of our picks may be right for you. Ultimately, if you are unsure of what may be the best fit, seek professional help from an accountant or other professional services. 

Best free tax softwareFree state returnFree federal returnIncome threshold
Cash App TaxesYesYesNo
TaxSlayer Simply FreeYesYes$100,000
H&R Block Free OnlineYesYesNo
TurboTax Free EditionYesYesNo
TaxAct FreeNoYesNo

Which free tax software is right for you?

Choosing a tax software that's right for you is ultimately up to your needs for a service. See how ZDNET's top pick -- Cash App Taxes -- compares to the other options we've slated for this list and if it may be right for you. 

Choose this free tax software ...If you want...
Cash App TaxesThe best overall free online tax software for most experienced people
TaxSlayer Simply FreeA free tax software option for W-2 filers with no dependents or deductions
H&R Block Free OnlineA free tax software for students and most filling needs
Turbotax Free Edition The best alternative free tax software for simple filers
TaxACT FreeAn IRS free file eligible free tax software

How do you file taxes?

There are only three options when it comes to filing taxes:

  • Manual filing: Manual tax filing is cut and dry. It is done by completing IRS Form 1040, known as the Individual Tax Return form. Once it is completed, it is mailed to the IRS. However, paper tax returns are the slowest to process. The IRS had a backlog of nearly 3 million amended tax returns and a processing time of 20 weeks in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

  • Using a tax preparation service or tax professional: Numerous tax preparation services and professionals aid you in your quest during tax season. Some individuals opt for professional services to help them wade through the sea of forms and tax jargon -- tax credits and deductions

  • Using tax software programs: Tax software programs are also a popular option. Many online programs are offered to help walk people through filing their taxes electronically. Of course, many of these software programs come with a cost, but it may be well worth the small investment to receive your tax refund faster. Plus, most tax software programs have fail-safe checks that ensure accuracy and maximize your deductions.

Are there alternative free tax software options?

Yes, there are other free tax software options if you're looking for online filing. Here are more alternatives. 

View at FreetaxusaView at Libertytax

Can you file with the IRS for free?

For the 2024 tax filing season, individuals who made $79,000 or less in 2023 can file for free with the IRS. This income threshold applies to all tax filing statuses, and the income limit refers to your adjusted gross income (AGI), not your gross income. 

How to prepare for tax season

The 2024 tax filing season began Jan. 29. 

And the sooner you file, the sooner you can expect to receive your refund (if you're due one). Numerous tax preparation services and professional tax preparers are available to help you check off filing this tax season. Some services may come with a fee depending on the tax situation, and the more complicated your tax filing needs are (dealing with less common forms and schedules), the more likely you will benefit the most from professional tax services. 

The tax process can be simple, manageable, and potentially free for individuals with less complicated tax filings, such as W-2 employees. Many top-tier tax preparation services offer free editions for simple tax filers who qualify. 

Whether you file using online tax software or a tax professional, you still have to do most of the legwork to get organized. Make tax filing easier by getting organized in advance in a few ways:

  • Find and review the previous year's tax return: Last year's tax return can be a good starting point to determine what type of deductions you took and what figures and documents you may need to collect for the current year.  

  • Save and categorize your receipts: If you plan on taking deductions for specific categories such as medical or work-related expenses, keep your receipts organized by categories such as uniforms, dry cleaning, prescription drugs, and more. 

  • Download your tax forms: You could always wait to receive your 1099s in the mail or download them for free from the financial institution issuing them. Some of the most common 1099s you may receive are for your investments and interest earned through your bank or credit union. 

  • Store all of your information in a safe, accessible place: As you gather everything you need to do your taxes, set aside your stash in a safe, easily accessible place. Prepping your information beforehand will do you no good if you can't find it later. 

When does the 2024 tax filing season begin?

The 2024 tax filing season officially began on Jan. 29, 2024.

When are 2024 taxes due?

The deadline for filing your federal income tax return is Apr. 15, 2024, for residents of every state except Maine and Massachusetts, where residents will have until Apr. 17, 2024, due to state holidays. The filing deadline can be moved to Oct. 15, 2024, if you request a six-month tax extension using Form 4868 by Apr. 15, 2024. 

Despite any extension, Apr. 15 remains the date you must pay your taxes owed. Even if you submit a request for an extension, you still must pay your taxes by Apr. 15, 2024. A tax extension gives you more time to submit your return, not pay your taxes. 

Read more: How to file your taxes via the IRS

Is it better to file taxes early or late?

It's best to file your taxes as soon as possible for a few reasons. Not only are you more likely to see a speedier return the earlier you file, but filing well before the deadline gives you plenty of time to prepare payment for any taxes you may owe. And if you're expecting a return, IRS data shows that taxpayers who file by late February receive larger refunds than those who file later.

Filing as soon as you can also gets it off your to-do list and gives you extra time should there be any errors or mistakes that may need to be corrected. Early filing can provide additional protection to avoid being a victim of tax refund fraud, too (filing early won't 100% ensure fraud protection, but getting ahead of your tax filing means an identity thief will have a slimmer chance of using your Social Security number before you do). 

Is free tax software really free?

Most large tax services provide a limited free version of their software for simple tax filings without too many credits or deductions. In most cases, the tax service only offers free federal taxes, which means filing state taxes will incur an additional fee. Individuals with substantive investments or freelancer workers may also need to pay other fees for more complicated tax filings not supported by basic offerings. 

What is the best free tax software?

The "best" tax software will ultimately come down to your individual needs for tax filing. What may be the best service for you might not be best for someone else. However, Cash App Taxes, formerly Credit Karma Tax, offers free tax filing for the broadest range of solutions, credits, and deductions. ZDNET's research revealed several other solid options incorporated into this list. 

What is a simple tax return?

Typically, a simple tax return typically contains a single W-2 income, may include limited interest and dividend income, and doesn't require itemized deductions (standard deductions only). This definition may differ across filing programs, but a simple tax return is in essence, the most basic type of tax return you can file. 

Can I amend my tax return?

Generally, most online tax software services will give you the option to make changes to a tax return if you've spotted a mistake or filed incorrectly. You'll need to log onto your platform of choice and look for the option to amend the return. In some instances, you may need to contact customer service for help and assistance in filing an amended return. 

How long does it take to get a tax refund?

The quickest way to receive a tax refund is by filing your return online and selecting direct deposit as the refund method of choice. The process will take less than three weeks per the IRS, and you won't have to worry about the check getting lost in the mail. If you would rather mail in your tax return, your refund will take longer -- about six to eight weeks after it's received by the IRS.

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