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How to File Your Tax Return for Free

No-cost tax help is available from AARP and the IRS. See who qualifies

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Danielle Del Platoa

You say you hate paying taxes? You say the sight of a tax form makes you want to live in the woods like a wild man? Well, cheer up, Bunky, because there are plenty of ways to get your taxes done for free. Take a closer look at the options available to qualifying taxpayers at no charge.

New in 2024: IRS Direct File

The IRS is piloting a free program that initially lets eligible taxpayers file federal returns directly to the agency. Direct File gives step-by-step guidance, real-time online support from IRS customer service and representatives, and online access by smartphone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer. The program, available in English and Spanish, is running as a pilot program in 12 states this year. It’s now available to all taxpayers in those states.

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The 12 states are: Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington state and Wyoming. Direct File doesn’t help with state taxes. For residents of Arizona, California, Massachusetts and New York, however, the program will direct you to state-supported tax return programs.

Estimate Your Taxes

AARP’s tax calculator can help you predict what you’re likely to pay the IRS.

Direct File is designed for relatively simple tax returns: To be eligible, you’ll need regular income and a W-2 form, SSA-1099 for Social Security income, a 1099-G for unemployment compensation or a 1099-INT interest income of $1,500 or less. The program can compute the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, as well as the credit for other dependents. You can also declare a standard deduction, a deduction for student loan interest and a deduction for educator expenses. Direct File has no income limits.

If you itemize, have income from gig jobs or claim other credits like the Child and Dependent Care Credit, Saver’s Credit or the Premium Tax Credit, IRS Direct File is not for you.

You’ll need to verify your identity and sign in securely with an IRS account to use Direct file.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide

Since 1968, Tax-Aide has helped more than 75 million taxpayers fill out their returns. All Tax-Aide volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year to make sure they understand all facets of the tax code.

Tax-Aide offers several ways to get your taxes done for free. 

  • In person. Bring your documents, sit down and the volunteer will do your return on site in one visit.
  • Hybrid service. You arrive at the Tax-Aide location and drop off your documents, which are stored on software provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Tax-Aide volunteers fill out your forms. When you come back, you finalize your return and get a paper printout. Alternatively, returns can be finalized online as long as you have internet service.
  • Drop-off service. Just drop off your tax documents with a Tax-Aide volunteer. Other volunteers will fill out your return and file it. You’ll get a printed copy of your tax return when you come back, as well as all your documents.
  • Virtual visit. Scan your documents and upload them to IRS software. Tax-Aide volunteers will prepare your return and send it to the Feds electronically. You’ll get your documents and your return electronically as well.
  • Self-assistance. Just need someone to help you fill out the form? Tax-Aide will do that, too.
  • Do it yourself. Use software provided through the Tax-Aide website.

Naturally, there are some caveats. Tax-Aide service begins in early February. You can find the Tax-Aide location nearest to you now with AARP’s handy Tax-Aide Locator tool. The service is available by appointment in most locations, but some have walk-in service, too.

Tax-Aide can prepare most returns, but not all of them. If you have a small business or must pay the Alternative Minimum Tax, you might be better served elsewhere. Although the program is aimed toward older, low-income taxpayers, anyone can use Tax-Aide regardless of age, and you don’t have to be an AARP member. Did we mention that it’s free?

IRS Free File

The IRS has partnerships with eight tax software companies that allow qualifying taxpayers to file federal tax returns, and in some cases state tax returns, online at no charge. In general, Free File is available to those with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $79,000 or less, depending on the company. The income limits listed below are all for adjusted gross income, which is your gross income minus some deductions, such as student loan interest. This IRS Free File tool can help match you with the right free tax software for your filing needs.

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If you have an AGI greater than $79,000, or you like to do your taxes yourself, the IRS offers Free File Fillable Forms, which let you enter your tax information online, do limited tax calculations, print out your file, and file electronically for free with the IRS.

In addition to the free fillable forms, the IRS offers Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), aimed at people who make $64,000 or less, have disabilities or have limited ability to speak English. Use the IRS locator to find a VITA site near you. 

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