As if doing your taxes wasn't irritating enough, it often ends up costing you money. Tax prep and unexpected fees basically go hand in hand.
But if you're paying to submit your federal return this year, save your cash — you can probably file for free.
The IRS estimates that some 70% of Americans, or roughly 100 million taxpayers, meet the income, age and location requirements to do their income taxes for free online. That's an especially important point now, because many people who aren't typically required to file will need to this year if they're still waiting on stimulus checks.
Ahead of the April 15 deadline, here are a few no-cost ways to do your 2020 taxes.
File federal taxes for free online
The IRS has a program called Free File, which is a partnership between the government and a group of name-brand tax prep companies called the Free File Alliance. It's a tried-and-true system, having launched back in 2003, and a widely available one: If your adjusted gross income was under $72,000 in 2020, you're probably eligible.
This year, there are nine options that let people file taxes for free online: 1040NOW, Free 1040 Tax Return, FreeTaxUSA, Online Taxes at OLT.com, eZTaxReturn.com, TaxSlayer, TaxAct, FileYourTaxes.com and TurboTax.
Each service has different age, earnings and location criteria — some are only available for residents of certain states, while others are only available to people with certain income levels — so you'll need to do some research. Visit the IRS website to determine which one is right for your financial situation. If you're having trouble navigating the offers, the Free File Online Lookup Tool will help you figure it out.
Once you've found a service you're eligible for, it should be pretty easy to use, says Hollina Wadsworth, a certified financial planner with Baker Boyer in Walla Walla, Washington.
"They'll ask you about your situation — they'll say, 'Did you buy a home?' 'Did anything change?' 'Did you get unemployment?' 'Do you have a retirement plan?'" she adds. "They really do guide you and ask questions about your situation."
Hot tip: People with incomes above $72,000 can still do their taxes for free through an option called Free File Fillable Forms, but they'll have to fly solo. Free File Fillable Forms don't provide guidance; you'll need to know how to fill out your returns (and how to do the math for them). It's only available for federal returns.
File state taxes for free online
Not all states have income tax, but if yours does, there are some no-cost options for submitting those as well.
When browsing the Free File Online offers, pay special attention to any fees associated with state income tax returns. The IRS says you can also visit your state tax agency's website to see what sorts of programs it offers. Georgia, for example, has special State of Georgia Free File options.
What you shouldn't do is select a tax prep service based on a random ad that pops up on your social media feed, because it could lead to a scam. "It could direct you somewhere not legitimate," Wadsworth says.
Get your taxes prepared for free
Don't love the idea of doing your taxes yourself? There are a ton of ways to find experts willing to file them for you at no charge.
Perhaps the best-known option is the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, available to people with incomes of $57,000 or less, those with disabilities or those who speak other languages.
Put in your zip code here to find a VITA site near you. They're often run out of libraries or schools. In non-pandemic times, you can stop by at your convenience, but the coronavirus crisis has led many spots to require appointments.
You may also want to do a quick Google search for local free tax prep opportunities. In Clarksville, Tennessee, students at Austin Peay State University are virtually preparing tax returns for anyone whose income is under $66,000. In El Paso, Texas, taxpayers making $60,000 or less can get free help from Socorro Independent School District students.
For the vast majority of taxpayers, it's not about whether or not you can get free help with your taxes this year but which option works best for you.