As we review the best online tax preparation software every year, we keep an eye out for budget-friendly filling options. Because most companies offer extremely limited free tiers, many filers need to eventually upgrade to a paid tier due to things like HSA contributions, child care expenses, student loan interest, and other deductions. As you add more 1099s and other needs, you’re forced to pay for those forms and features.
If you have a more complex tax filing situation, don’t start with the free and then upgrade. Just start with the paid versions. Active cryptocurrency and stock traders, landlords, side hustlers, and full-time business owners benefit from paying for high-end software. These offer the most features to import tax data and file quickly.
In 2023, Cash App Taxes is the only company offering free federal and state filing to all supported filers, though it has significant limitations. H&R Block has the most robust free tier offering among paid software, but it imposes strict limitations before requiring an upgrade.
If you use the FreeFile Alliance, a program from the IRS, you cannot upgrade to a paid tier later on. Be careful where you start filing your taxes, so you don’t get stuck. Start with the free link directly from the tax prep website, not the IRS Free File website.
Before you select a “Free” software package, check out this list of the best free tax software to see which may work for you.
Note: The tax prep offers on this site are from companies from which The College Investor receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear), but it does not impact our independent reviews. The College Investor does not include all tax prep companies or all tax prep offers available in the marketplace, although we always strive to keep our content updated.
Free Tax Software? Companies Can ‘Get You’ Even With Free Software Offers
Most companies on this list offer free federal filing for a subset of taxpayers. The trouble is that each company has different criteria for free filing, and most let you start filling out your tax forms for free and only tell you what you’ll have to pay at the end.
Almost every major filing service requires you to upgrade to the “Deluxe” tier when you claim the most common credits outside a small list for students and low-income households. This can be frustrating when you don’t realize you have to pay to upgrade until you’re an hour into the process or about to click the submit button to finish.
Most Americans must file federal and state returns. Some companies offer free federal filing but require users to pay fees for state filing. State filing costs are often hidden on pricing pages, so be careful when choosing that advertise free federal filing.
Which Companies Offer Free Federal And Free eFile State Tax Returns?
In 2023, the only company offering free state and Federal filing for ALL users is Cash App Taxes. Cash App Taxes (previously known as Credit Karma Tax) offers a robust and user-friendly experience, audit support guarantees, and support for most common tax situations. However, there are limitations, such as multi-state filing isn't supported.
H&R Block also offers a robust free pricing tier. You could qualify for this tier if you:
- Earned only W-2 income and
- Received only unemployment or Social Security income
The free tier also supports:
- Student loan interest deductions
- Educational credits
- Child tax credits
You'll have to upgrade for any other tax needs, most likely to the Deluxe tier.
We’re huge fans of H&R Block’s expanded free pricing and the completely free offering from Cash App Taxes. However, a free product may not be the best fit for you in 2023.
Individuals with complex filing situations looking for a bargain may choose FreeTaxUSA. Active traders or others with complex situations may prefer premium software like H&R Block (higher tiers) or TurboTax.
List Of Free Tax Software Companies
Watch Out For These "Gotchas"
Cash App Taxes
100% Free. However, some complicated situations aren’t covered (most notably, multi-state filing isn’t supported).
Unemployment income, student loan interest, educational expenses, and Child Tax Credit included for free.
W-2 income, limited interest and dividend income and Earned Income Tax Credit, Rebate Recovery Credit, Child Tax Credit and student loan interest deduction included for free.
W-2 income, Social Security Income and Unemployment income supported on Free tier. Earned Income Credit and Rebate Recovery Credit, and Educational credits also supported.
State is $14.99 additional.
Read our FreeTaxUSA Review.
State is $14.99 additional.
Read our TaxHawk Review here.
Free for simple tax returns including student loan interest and educational expenses.
Only Free for very simple returns. Filers can claim the Earned Income Credit and the Rebate Recovery Credit.
IRS Fillable Forms
The IRS Free Fillable Forms allow filers to manually file their returns. Filers need to understand their tax situation to use these forms, but it can work for certain filers.
Cash App Taxes
Cash App Taxes (formerly Credit Karma Tax) continues to deliver free state and federal filing for all users. The product offers most users an excellent experience although active traders should look elsewhere.
If you worked or lived in multiple states, you can’t use Cash App Taxes to file state returns. Anyone with K-1 income can’t use the software for state or federal filing. A handful of less common situations are also unsupported.
Cash App Taxes is a great product, and the only “gotcha” is that you have to download and set up the free Cash App on your phone. If you’re unfamiliar, the Cash App from Square works much like Venmo, PayPal, and other peer-to-peer payment apps.Cash App Taxes is our top free choice for 2023. Learn more about Cash App Taxes here.
H&R Block offers qualifying taxpayers a free federal and state return this year. The free tier includes support for:
- W-2 income
- credits and deductions
- qualifying tuition payments
- student loan interest
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Child Tax Credit (CTC)
- retirement income
You’ll have to pay for self-employment, investments, real estate taxes and mortgage interest, investments, and other tax situations.
Not everyone will qualify for H&R Block’s free tier, but we continue to include it as a top choice because it is so easy to use and works for many people. Filers can simply snap a photo of their W-2, add some basic information, and complete filing.
Read more about what H&R Block offers in our H&R Block Review.
In 2023, TurboTax offers a free tier to those with limited needs and simple returns only. Not all taxpayers will qualify.
This version supports:
- W-2 income
- Limited 1099 interest and dividend income
- 1099-K income
- Student loan interest
- Child tax credit
- Earned Income Tax Credit
Anything else requires paying and you’ll have to upgrade if you:
- Itemize your deductions
- Earn unemployment
- Own a business
- Sold stocks or other investments
- Owned rental property
- Qualify for additional credits or deductions
Read more about what TurboTax offers in our detailed TurboTax review.
TaxAct has an expansive free filing option, but it only applies to federal returns. All filers have to pay for state returns. Given the high price point of state returns, TaxAct could be a better choice for people seeking free filing.
In 2023, TaxAct provides federal free filing to people with:
- W-2 income
- Education expenses (but not student loan interest)
- People who want to claim the child tax deduction
You must upgrade if you have:
- Student loan interest
- Charitable contributions
- Child care expenses
- Contributions to a traditional IRA
FreeTaxUSA advertises itself as the best place to file your federal taxes for Free. Free extends to all forms and all individual tax situations on the Federal side. Unfortunately, "Free" doesn’t include state filing.
While it isn’t free, we still think FreeTaxUSA offers an excellent option for people who have complex tax filing situations and want to save on tax preparation costs. It’s especially useful for K-1 income and multi-state filers who don’t qualify for Cash App Taxes.Check out our FreeTaxUSA review here.
TaxHawk advertises “File Federal Taxes Free” which is technically true. But people who file state returns will need to pay, per state. With steadily improving software and many fans returning annually, TaxHawk is a solid bargain tax filing choice. But those who need to file State Returns can’t file for free with TaxHawk.Read our full TaxHawk review here.
TaxSlayer is open and honest about only supporting simple returns on its free tier. While it doesn’t support Child Tax Credits or HSA contributions on its free tier, it supports student loan interest deductions and other simple needs.
Due to its limitations, we don’t recommend the free version. However, TaxSlayer Classic is a Premium software bargain, even for more complex filers, which earns it a spot on our best tax software list for those who can’t file for free.You can read our full TaxSlayer Review here.
ezTaxReturn only supports free federal filing for a limited subset of people. You must earn less than $50,000, not have any dependents, and only earn W-2 income. All credits and deductions require upgrading to a paid version. The company always charges for state filing.
The free software is incredibly limited, and the software is difficult to use. Since you need to pay for state filing, we recommend skipping ezTaxReturn in 2023.Check out our ezTaxReturn review here.
IRS Free Fillable Forms
The IRS offers free fillable forms from mid-January through mid-October (when filing closes). If you’re used to filing your taxes with pen and paper, you might upgrade to these easy-to-use forms, but they’re just a small upgrade from a typewriter.
Generally, we prefer the ease of the tax filing software above. IRS fillable forms could make sense if you have little income and deductible expenses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to a few of the questions that people ask most often about free tax software:
Is there such a thing as free tax software?
Several companies offer free tax software to some customers. Unfortunately, most companies restrict who can file for free. In 2023, only Cash App Taxes is free for all users. However, H&R Block Free has a comprehensive version of free filing for state and federal filers.
Does free filing have restrictions?
Most companies restrict who qualifies for free filing. These companies need to make money, requiring most users to upgrade. If you choose to pay, make that determination from the get go. It’ll save you time because you won’t find yourself getting stuck with having to upgrade after you spent an hour or two entering all of your financial information.
Are federal and state tax returns free?
The FreeFile Alliance focuses on free federal filing. However, several companies offer free federal and state filing for a limited subset of households. For example, TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer, TaxAct, and Cash App Taxes offer free federal and state filing. Cash App Taxes is the only company offering free state filing to all qualified users.
Which tax software is free?
Cash App Taxes offers free filing to most filers. H&R Block is an expansive free option that is a bit easier to use than Cash App Taxes, so we recommend it to people who qualify.
FreeTaxUSA, TaxHawk, and OLT.com offer free Federal filing to all users but require people to pay for state filing.
Final Reminder About Free Tax Filing
The world of "Free Tax Filing" isn’t quite free. Use the guide above to help you choose the right software for your situation. Also, don’t go for free if it means missing out on big tax deductions.
Remember, there may be better moves than free filing. Those who prefer to use expensive tax filing software do so because it offers more robust tools to help them feel more confident about their filing.
Eric Rosenberg is a financial writer, speaker, and consultant based in Ventura, California. He holds an undergraduate finance degree from the University of Colorado and an MBA in finance from the University of Denver. After working as a bank manager and then nearly a decade in corporate finance and accounting, Eric left the corporate world for full-time online self-employment.
His work has been featured in online publications including Business Insider, Nerdwallet, Investopedia, The Balance, Huffington Post, and other financial publications. When away from the computer, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, traveling the world, and tinkering with technology. Connect with him and learn more at EricRosenberg.com.
Editor: Claire Tak Reviewed by: Robert Farrington