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Home / Tips and Tricks / How to File Your 2020 Taxes Online for Free in 2021

How to File Your 2020 Taxes Online for Free in 2021

A person filling out 1040 paper tax forms near a laptop.
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The IRS now accepts tax returns for tax year 2020, and they must be paid by April 1

5, 2021. Most US residents can file their taxes for free thanks to the IRS Free File Program, but many people still don’t know. Here’s how.

The TurboTax IRS Free File banner.

If your adjusted gross income for 2020 was $ 72,000 or less, you are eligible for the IRS Free File Program. This program is a collaboration between the IRS and tax software companies such as Intuit and H&R Block. If you qualify, you can use certain tax programs for free and pay $ 0 for each feature the software offers. Once your federal and state taxes are completed, you can also file them electronically for free.

Here’s something you should know: The free versions available through IRS Free File are different from the normal free versions available on each program’s website!

In other words, “IRS Free File Program provided by TurboTax” and “TurboTax Free Edition” are different software packages. If you are going to use TurboTax Free Edition, you may be surprised by upsells – and you may have to pay for features that the IRS Free File version of TurboTax offers for free. TurboTax is under no obligation to inform you of the IRS Free File version of its software.

To take advantage of a free offer, you must start with the IRS Free File version of the software. If you meet the qualifications, you can use the software for free and don’t have to pay for any of the features. You can’t just start with the “normal” free version of a tax program.

Visit the official IRS Free File website to get started. You can browse through all the available free file offerings or use the IRS Free File Finder Tool to discover the free file software that supports your situation.

It’s a bit complicated – different tax programs have different restrictions. For example, TurboTax’s free file program software requires you to have an AGI of $ 39,000 or less. The standard free edition of TurboTax may still work for you if you have a higher AGI, but read the fine print – it’s only free for very basic tax returns. Use the IRS Free File website to see which Free File programs are right for your financial situation.

Based on the options available on the IRS website, H&R Block does not appear to be participating in the IRS Free File program this year. If you prefer, you may be able to file a file for free using H&R Block’s free online software. Know what you’re getting into, though: the standard ‘free’ versions of TurboTax, H&R Block and other applications will upsell you and require payment for all but the most basic tax situations.

The Credit Karma Tax 100% Free Tax Pledge.

Every year we also put Credit Karma Tax in the spotlight. This tax software is completely free. It won’t sell you any feature – it doesn’t even offer paid features.

Credit Karma offers a free credit reporting service that makes money by showing you personalized offers on financial products. Credit Karma Tax makes money in a similar way.

However, not everyone can use this software. Credit Karma Tax does not support some more complicated situations and forms. For example, you cannot file partial, multi-state, or non-resident state returns. You cannot file forms such as Form 1116 for the foreign tax credit or Form 2555 for foreign earned income. These are the situations and forms that Credit Karma Tax does not support.

Credit Karma Tax is much newer than the other options on this list. But it has been around for a few years and is now owned by Intuit, which makes TurboTax. If you are in a complicated situation, you may want to check its work in another tax return application before filing. (Many tax programs will only charge you if you continue to submit files, so you can enter all your details and get a final estimate from multiple programs to see if they match.)

Note: Intuit, makers of TurboTax, now owns Credit Karma. Intuit completed the acquisition in December 2020. However, the free Credit Karma Tax software is still available.

RELATED: How to View (and Check) Your Credit Report for Free

Free Federal Returns Only: FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA's free e-file offering.

If you live in a state where you don’t need to file a tax return, check out FreeTaxUSA. FreeTaxUSA offers free federal tax returns and only charges a small fee ($ 15) for state tax returns.

So if you don’t need to file a tax return in your country, you can use FreeTaxUSA completely for free.

FreeTaxUSA has been around longer than Credit Karma Tax and supports a variety of situations that Credit Karma Tax does not offer either. It’s certainly a more budget-friendly alternative to expensive products like TurboTax if you have to pay to file.

Do you want to do things the old-fashioned way, but with digital conveniences?

The IRS also offers free fillable forms. Absolutely anyone can use it without an income limit.

These are exactly what they sound like: electronic copies of the IRS’s standard paper tax forms. These forms will do some basic math for you when you enter numbers, but that’s all the help you get. There is no user-friendly interview process to get you through everything.

However, these are still easier than dealing with standard paper forms. Once done, you can submit an e-file directly from the IRS website. You don’t need to print or email anything.

Note that the IRS only offers federal tax forms. You face state tax forms alone. Your state tax office website may offer its own free fillable forms on its website, but that’s up to your state.

Some of these electronic forms have some minor limitations that can affect people in rare situations. For example, the electronic version of Form W-2G for certain betting winnings allows you to insert only 30 W-2Gs – no more. If you need to feed more, use another program or do it on paper. Here is a list of available forms and restrictions on the IRS website.

This guide is similar to our guide to filing for 2019 taxes last year. Not much has changed. But every year, we especially want to highlight the IRS Free File Program and remind people that you can do your taxes for free – if you know the secret. Pass it on.

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