Every year, we review dozens of online tax software packages. We try to clearly lay out who qualifies for the “free” tier and who is excluded. In the past year or two, we’ve been happy to find that many companies are making that information more clear from their websites.
Despite the increased clarity, we see time and again that tax filers feel duped by tax software companies. They expect to file for free, but they unexpectedly have to pay much more (often over $100).
People who have complex tax filing situations expect to pay for great tax software. Crypto investors and stock traders, landlords, and small business owners all see value in Premium tax filing software. But these folks aren’t the norm. Millions of people have only W-2 income, but they get pushed to paid software due to HSA contributions, child care expenses, student loan interest, and other mundane expenses.
These folks are understandably upset when they don’t qualify for free tax filing. A lot of online filing companies advertise free filing. Many are even part of the FreeFile Alliance, which is a group of companies that have committed to offering free filing for eligible individuals.
However, users may not qualify for the free offer because of the complexity of their filing. By the time users spend an hour or two entering information, they may end up paying top dollar to file their taxes.
Instead of being surprised by the price tags of “Free” filing offers, we want you to be an informed consumer. We took a look at every major tax filing software and broke down who is offering free filing and who isn't. Many of these companies offer free Federal returns for certain filers but charge for the State return. Or even worse, charge more for a State return than other versions of their software!
In 2022, Cash App Taxes is the only company offering free state and federal filing to most filers. Among paid software, H&R Block has the most robust free offering, but even this software has some gotchas you'll need to be aware of. Before you select a “Free” software package, check out our list of the best free software to see if it makes sense for you.
Free Tax Software? Companies Can “Get You” Even With Free Software Offers
Most of the 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. Some only offer free filing for a small subset of filers (usually those with W-2 income only, and no credits or deductions). Other companies offer free federal filing but require payment for state filing.
The so-called free-filing situation has become even more complex due to Covid-19. During the 2020 filing season, many companies expanded their Free offering to cover unemployment income and credits associated with the American Rescue Plan. While some companies have retained these expanded free offerings this year, others have reverted to the more restrictive options.
Whether companies have retained expanded offerings, many companies retain “gotchas” related to student loan interest deductions, retirement contributions, daycare expenses, and HSA contributions. Almost every major filing service requires an upgrade to the “Deluxe” tier when you start claiming these credits. This can feel like a super-frustrating money grab when you don’t know you have to pay until you’re an hour into the process and about to finish filing.
We wish we could offer better news for tax filers. But the fact is that few tax software services offer free filing when you have “complex” filing. And even if your situation is pretty normal, you may have to pay to upgrade.
This isn’t to say that paying for tax software is a bad choice. On the contrary, many tax software packages are a real bargain. But when you see a tax software company plastering "Free" on its website, be wary. You may not qualify.
Another gotcha relates to state filing costs. Most people have to file federal and state returns. Some companies offer free federal filing, but always require users to pay for state filing fees. Often the state filing costs are hidden on the website, so be careful before you choose one of the tax software companies that heavily advertise free federal filing.
Which Companies Offer Free Federal And Free eFile State Tax Returns?
In 2022, 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 surprisingly robust user experience, audit support guarantees, and support for most major tax situations.
This year, H&R Block is also offering a robust free pricing tier. It supports all credits related to the American Rescue Plan (including the 2021 Rebate Recovery Credit). If you earned W-2 income or received unemployment income, or Social Security Income, you could qualify for this tier. The free tier also supports student loan interest deductions, educational credits, and child tax credits. However, filers with retirement credits and deductions may have to upgrade. Additionally, those with HSA contributions, and child or dependent care contributions will certainly have to upgrade to claim all their relevant deductions. People in these situations have to upgrade to Deluxe and may be better off using Cash App Taxes. Check out H&R Block Online here >>
We’re huge fans of H&R Block’s expanded free pricing and Cash App Taxes' completely free offerings. However, a free product may not be the best fit for you in 2022. Individuals with complex filing situations may want to choose bargain software like FreeTaxUSA. And active traders or others with complex situations may prefer premium software like H&R Block (the higher tiers) or TurboTax. This article focuses on free software, but consider your situation before making a selection.
Note For Last Minute Filers: Most state free filing options disappear after April 1st. Choosing a platform early on generally means you’ll get the best deal. File early next year to take advantage!
Note: The tax prep offers that appear 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). The College Investor does not include all tax prep companies or all tax prep offers available in the marketplace, although we are always striving to keep our content updated.
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.
"Free to Start," not to file. They charge a $19.95 e-File fee.
“Try it free” but everyone pays the $25 price tag.
Only Free for very simple returns. Filers can claim the Earned Income Credit and the Rebate Recovery Credit.
Free Federal for certain income levels (between $9,000-$69,000 for people under age 65).
Online Taxes (OLT)
State is $9.95 additional.
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) continue to deliver free state and Federal filing for all users. The product offers an excellent user experience for all most users (active traders will want to look elsewhere). Unfortunately, people who worked in multiple states cannot use Cash App Taxes to file their state returns. People with K-1 income can’t use the software for state or federal filing.
Cash App Taxes is a great product and the only “gotcha” is that you have to download the Cash App on your phone. You also have to connect a debit card to the Cash App which may be a challenge for underbanked people (prepaid debit cards work).
Cash App Taxes is our top free choice for 2022. Learn more about Cash App Taxes here.
H&R Block offers a free federal and state return this year. They also expanded what counts for free filing, making them our top choice for individuals that qualify for free file.
W-2 wage earners (including homeowners, people claiming childcare expenses, student loan interest deduction or charitable deductions and recipients of the earned income tax credit) can all get free file this year. Limited interest and dividend income is also supported. The free tier also supports a few important credits and deductions including the Earned Income Credit, Child Tax Credit, Education Credits, and the Student Loan Interest Deduction. The Free tier includes both State and Federal filing.
Not everyone will qualify for H&R Block’s free tier, but we continue to promote it because it is so easy to use. Filers can simply snap a photo of their W-2, add some basic information, and complete filing.
You can read more about what H&R Block offers in our H&R Block Review.
In 2022, TurboTax has an amazing offer. Simple filers who have their documents ready by February 15th can have an enrolled agent file taxes on their behalf. Those who complete their returns by March 31st can have an Enrolled Agent review their taxes before filing.
Unfortunately, this offer is limited to people with very simple returns. The only credits and deductions supported are the Earned Income Tax Credit, Rebate Recovery Credit, Child Tax Credit, and student loan interest deduction included for free.
People with more complex filing situations (including HSA contributions or distributions, child care expenses, and charitable contributions) will have to upgrade.
You can read more about what TurboTax offers in our 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 is a poor choice for people seeking free filing.
In 2022, TaxAct provides free filing to people with W-2 income, education expenses (but not student loan interest), and people who want to claim the child tax deduction. The free filing includes Federal and State returns.
But watch out. TaxAct bumps you out of the free zone pretty quickly. Anyone with student loan interest, charitable contributions, child care expenses, or contributions to a traditional IRA will move to the Deluxe tier.
You can read more about what TaxAct offers in our TaxAct Review.
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, the "Free" label doesn’t extend to state filing. All filers must pay $14.99 per state.
While it isn’t free, we still think FreeTaxUSA offers an excellent option for people who have complex tax filing situations. It’s especially useful for those with K-1 income and multi-state filing who don’t qualify for Cash App Taxes. The state pricing is transparently displayed on the front page of the website, and the software is easy to use.
Check out our FreeTaxUSA review here.
TaxHawk advertises “File Federal Taxes Free!” which turns out to be true. But people who need to file state returns will need to pay $14.99. TaxHawk does not have a free pricing tier for state filing.
With cleaned-up advertising and great software, TaxHawk qualifies as a great bargain. 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 does support student loan interest deductions.
Due to the limits on the free tier, we don’t recommend TaxSlayer’s free product. However, TaxSlayer Classic is a Premium software bargain for more complex filers.
You can read our full TaxSlayer Review here.
Beyond 1040now.net having the second ugliest website of all tax preparation companies, their pricing is exceptionally confusing. Their site says free online tax preparation. But none of their filing options are free.
They charge $19.95 - there's no free! So why do they start by saying free online tax preparation? I could not find offers for free filing for lower earners either.
Starting for free isn’t free. This is software to avoid.
Unlike many other filing services, 1040.com has a flat pricing model. . All users pay $25 to file their taxes. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got complex taxes or easy taxes, the price is the same. Filers can test out the program for free, but you’ll need to pay before you file.
Generally, we prefer the Cash App Taxes or FreeTaxUSA interface to the 1040.com interface.
Check out our 1040.com 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. If you adjust your income through credits or deductions you cannot use their services. The company always charges $19.95 for state filing.
The free software is incredibly limited, and the software is difficult to use. Since users have to pay for state filing, we recommend passing on ezTaxReturn in 2022.
Check out our ezTaxReturn review here.
FileYourTaxes is tough to use and its price structure is byzantine. To qualify for free federal filing you must earn W-2 income, be under age 65, have no dependents, and earn between $9,500 and $69,000.
Even if you manage to qualify for free federal filing, the software is cumbersome to use. We don’t recommend FileYourTaxes for free software in 2022.
OnLine Taxes (OLT)
OLT.com is another online tax software company that hypes up "Free Federal Return For Everyone" because they charge additional for the state return. The $9.95 state return is fairly inexpensive, but this software is also somewhat cumbersome to use.
Technically, OLT.com is a bit less expensive than FreeTaxUSA, so it’s more of a bargain for multi-state filers. That said, it's clunkier, so we generally recommend that everyone else stay away.
Check out our OLT.com 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 decide that these forms are relatively easy to use. Generally, we prefer the ease of the tax filing software above. But the fillable forms could make sense if you don’t have much in the way of income or 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 2022, only Cash App Taxes is free for all customers. However, H&R Block Free has a more 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, so they require some users to upgrade. Paying for tax software could be a worthwhile expense for you, but you should choose that in advance. Don’t get stuck paying top price after an hour or two of entering 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 subset of customers. For example, TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer, TaxAct, and Cash App Taxes offer both federal and state filing for free. 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" is full of gotchas. Use the guide above to help you choose the right software for your situation.
And remember, free filing may not be the right move for you. Many people prefer to use expensive tax filing software because it helps them feel confident about their filing. You don’t want to be “Penny wise and pound foolish” when it comes to an expense as large as your taxes. Free software sounds great. But don’t go for free if it means missing out on big tax deductions.
If you want to estimate your taxes without "Starting For Free," consider using a tax estimator - those are almost always free.
Hannah is a wife, mom, and described personal finance geek. She excels with spreadsheets (and puns)! She regularly explores in-depth financial topics and enjoys looking at the latest tools and trends with money.