As many Americans know all too well, tax-filing software programs have sneaky ways of surprising users with hidden fees for their services—often when they’re just about finished with the process. But as many Americans don’t know, there’s a chance they could be using those same services for free.
Since 2003, the IRS has partnered with private software companies to offer low- and middle-income taxpayers the opportunity to file their taxes for free through a program called Free File. Essentially, if you meet specific criteria, you can use programs like TurboTax and H&R Block without paying those pesky fees. Last year, ProPublica investigated some of the companies’ attempts to conceal their free options, which prompted the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to conduct an audit that found more than 14 million Americans missed out on the opportunity to use Free File in 2019.
All this is to say: You should check to see if you qualify to use Free File before you file your taxes this year. Each program has slightly different qualifications, but if your total income is $69,000 or less, there are probably a few you’re eligible to use for free. As The Balance explains, it’s actually based on your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is your total income minus adjustments like student loan interest, retirement account contributions, and more. Since your AGI is always less than your total income, anyone who makes a total of $69,000 or less is automatically eligible for Free File.
If you answer a few basic personal questions here, the IRS will tell you which (if any) of the 10 participating software programs you can use. Although Free File is mainly to help you file federal taxes, several programs also offer free services for filing your state taxes, too.
If your AGI is above $69,000, you can still file your federal taxes for free, but it’ll be a more manual process—you’ll have to enter all the data into the electronic forms yourself, without a program to walk you through each step and double-check your information.
You can also browse all the programs and their eligibility requirements here.
[h/t The Balance]