Taxes

What Is The Cheapest Tax Software for 2023?

If you don’t qualify to file your taxes for free, what’s the next best option? We’ll compare prices and features below to help you find the cheapest tax software.

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Not only does tax software make tax-preparation easier, but most tax software programs offer free tax software versions. Which is the best free tax software available?

In this guide, we’re going to provide details of the free tax software offered by six of the most popular software providers so you can choose the best one for you. Find out the services each free version provides as well as any premium plans offered in case you run into complications.

Some even offer the option to switch to a live preparer. That’s a valuable option if you reach a point when you don’t think you can continue preparing your return on your own.

Before drilling down into each of the six free tax software offers, take a look a the table below for a quick look at which plan may be best for you:

BrandBest forFree federal filingFree state filing
CashApp TaxesFree filing for most tax situationsYesYes
TaxActAccess to live tax helpYesNo
H&R BlockFace-to-face tax preparationYesYes
TurboTaxComplicated tax returnsYesYes
TaxSlayerInexpensive if you need a premium versionYesYes
FreeTax USAExtremely low costYesNo

CashApp Taxes

With CashApp Taxes, free means free. And it’s not just the simplest returns either. Any tax return that can be prepared on Cash App Taxes can be done free of charge. You will be required to sign up for the free credit monitoring service before taking advantage of Cash App Taxes, and the company acknowledges that it can accommodate most but not all tax returns.

Cash App Taxes offers their Audit Defense also free of charge including audit representation. They also provide reimbursement up to $1,000 if either the IRS or a state tax authority penalizes you due to a calculation error by Cash App Taxes.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $0
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, Schedule A (itemized deductions), Schedule C (small business), child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: Wage earners, small business owners, those who itemize their deductions, and anyone needing to claim common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $0
  • Access to tax expert: Not available on any plan

Visit CashApp Taxes or read our Cash App Taxes Review

TaxAct

TaxAct has a free filing program has no fee for filing your federal return, but does charge a rather large fee for your state return. The free version accommodates only the simplest returns. Like most free plans on this list, you won’t be able to use the free version if you itemize deductions or are self-employed.

The free version provides step-by-step guidance in preparing your return, a complete tax glossary, and the ability to import prior-year returns from both TurboTax and H&R Block. The software can provide alerts of any items on your return that might trigger an audit. You also have access to your returns for the previous six years.

The unique feature of TaxAct is that all plans come with the ability to talk to a life tax professional.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $39.95
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: W2, retirement and unemployment income; filers with dependents, current students, and those claiming common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $24.95 to $64.95 for federal returns, plus $44.95 per state return
  • Access to tax expert: Yes, even on the free plan

undefinedVisit TaxAct[/cta_link or read our TaxAct Review

H&R Block

H & R Block

H&R Block is well known as the largest tax-preparation service in the country. They have more than 60,000 trained tax preparers, working out of about 12,000 offices around the country. This is a major advantage since you can convert your online tax-preparation to a live, local preparer at any time in the process.

H&R Block’s free version only accommodates the simplest tax returns. Unfortunately, they don’t offer live support for this plan. But the software has enough online resources to accommodate simple returns.

One benefit of H&R Blocks free plan is that you can take advantage of their Online Assist option. For $70 you can receive unlimited, live help from tax professionals while completing your return.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $0
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: W2, retirement and unemployment income; filers with dependents, current students, and those claiming common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $55 to $110, plus $37 for each state return
  • Access to tax expert: Not on the free plan

Visit H&R Block or Read our H&R Block Review

TurboTax

TurboTax is the most popular tax-preparation software, and for good reason. Not only can they accommodate virtually any tax situation, but they handle even the most complicated. That includes business tax returns, if necessary. The software is highly intuitive and incredibly easy to use, even if you’ve never prepared a tax return in the past.

The free version is available for simple returns only however, you won’t be able to take advantage of it if you receive retirement income. But it can be used if you have dependents and will even enable you to take advantage of any tax credits related to your children.

Like H&R Block, TurboTax also offers the ability to convert your return to live preparation through TurboTax Live. The fee starts at $89 for preparation of the federal return (Basic Live plan), and $49 for each state tax return.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $0
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: W2, filers with dependents, and those claiming common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $59 to $399, plus $49 to $59 for each state return
  • Access to tax expert: Not on the free plan

TurboTax or Read our TurboTax Review

Free version is for simple tax returns only. Not all taxpayers qualify.

TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer offers their Simply Free version, with no fee for the federal and state returns, as well as no filing fees. Like most other free versions on this list, it can accommodate only the most basic tax situations.

One advantage of TaxSlayer’s free version is that it provides free phone and email tech support. Tax help is not available on the free plan.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $0
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: W2, filers with dependents, current students, and those claiming common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $19.95 to $49.95, plus $39.95 for each state tax return
  • Access to tax expert: Not on the free plan

Visit TaxSlayer or Read our TaxSlayer Review

FreeTaxUSA

does enable you to file your federal tax return for free, but they charge a modest fee for filing your state return. But the big advantage is that returns at all levels can be filed free of charge on your federal tax return.

That means you can file free even if you’re self-employed, have investment income, or itemize tax deductions.

You can import prior-year tax returns from TurboTax, H&R Block, or TaxAct. Meanwhile, FreeTaxUSA guarantees your returns will be 100% accurate since they perform three individual accuracy checks before you file.

They do have one premium version, which is their Deluxe plan. But the fee for that plan is just $7.99. The basic advantages of the Deluxe plan are that you get both access to a tax professional and audit assistance.

  • Fee to file federal return: $0
  • Fee to file state return: $14.99
  • Tax forms supported with free version: Form 1040, Schedule A (itemized deductions), Schedule B (interest and dividend income), Schedule C (small business), schedule D (capital gains income), Schedule E (rental property income), child tax credit (Form 8812), and the earned income credit (Schedule EIC)
  • Tax profile for free version: Wage earners, small business owners, investment income, those who itemize their deductions, and anyone needing to claim common tax credits
  • Fee range for other returns: $0 to $7.99, plus $14.99 for each state tax return prepared
  • Access to tax expert: Not on the free plan

Visit FreeTaxUSA or Read our FreeTaxUSA Review

What Are Tax Software Programs?

Tax software programs are simply an online way to prepare your income tax returns. Tax software programs have actually been around for decades. Historically, they’ve been widely used by CPA firms and tax preparers, in proprietary professional versions. But now they are also available for individuals.

Given the complication involved in tax-preparation, having good tax preparation software is virtually a necessity. Software removes potential errors, by automating the process. Sorting numbers, after all, is what computer software does best. The result will be a mistake-free return. Plus, it knows all the tax code and available deductions so it can figure out exactly what you’ll qualify for.

There’s one more advantage, and that’s that tax software can e-file. So not only does it prepare flawless tax documents, you don’t even need to mail them it. If you want a paper copy you can simply press a button and print your returns. They’ll be arranged in sequential order, complete with instructions.

Tax-preparation doesn’t get any easier than that.

Read More: Must-Have Small Business Tax Deductions

How Does Tax Software Work?

Tax software allows the average person to do their taxes online. Typically, they are set up in a sort of interview style where it asks simple questions about your life to determine what deductions you qualify for. For example, it will ask you if you have any dependents. If you say yes it will bring up a screen where you can enter in the required information, such as their names, birthdays, and social security numbers. If you say no then it will just move on to the next section.

You’ll also enter in the information from your tax documents, such as a W-2 or 1099. Depending on the version you can even enter business income and expense deductions.

While tax software can handle a wide variety of tax situations it’s not appropriate for every single return. If you have employees, live or work overseas, or have unique or specialized circumstances you would likely be better served by an actual tax accountant.

Is There Such a Thing as Free Tax Software?

As you can see from our list absolutely! All six of the tax software plans we’ve reviewed provide free filing of your federal income tax return, and all but two offer free preparation of your state tax return as well.

Free tax software has become even more common since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The Act eliminated personal exemptions and doubled the standard deduction. The end result is that far more people benefit from the standard deduction. This greatly simplifies your taxes and makes more people eligible for free tax prep.

Though it may seem like a money-losing situation for the tax software providers, it’s actually something of a loss-leader. By offering free tax preparation for the simplest returns, they’ll also get the benefit of anyone who needs to trade-up to a premium version.

And while you may start with a free version this year, you may need a premium version in the future. If you’ve been preparing your return with the free version of the premium provider, it can be easier for you to just trade up, rather than switch to another provider later.

That’s what the tax preparation software providers are banking on.

Do I Qualify for Free Filing through the IRS?

You can file your federal income tax free through the IRS. However, there are some important limitations:

First, the IRS offers two free filing options. The first is the IRS Free File Program, which is the traditional free online tax preparation and filing option on IRS partner sites. However, this option is available only if you have an adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less.

If your income is higher, you can use the Free Fillable Forms program, which you can fill out online also free. You can even use this plan for more complicated returns, such as those involving itemized deductions, investment income, and self-employment income. However, with this option, you’ll need a basic idea of how to prepare your own tax return.

But an important limitation with the IRS plans is that they don’t extend to the preparation and filing of your state income tax return. If you rely on the IRS plans, you may need to pay for tax software for your state return. And tax software providers typically don’t offer preparation of a state tax return without also completing the federal.

How Should I Choose a Tax Software?

Though were emphasizing free tax software in this guide, price shouldn’t be the sole factor determining your choice. Naturally, you’re going to consider price, but that shouldn’t be the only factor.

Others you need to evaluate include:

The service level provided by the software. A free version is fine if your situation is simple. But if there’s any possibility it could go in a different direction, there should be options to make a switch without needing to move to a different software entirely. The software should be fully able to handle your tax filing requirements.

The availability of live preparation. Once again, if your return truly is simple, this may not be necessary. But if you run into a situation you’re not sure about, or an unexpected complication, having a live preparation option will eliminate the need to run off to the nearest tax preparer’s office.

Software support options. This can be in the form of live support, whether by phone or live chat, but it may also involve the resources available on the program site. Software like TurboTax has comprehensive online resources. 90% of your questions will be answered just by looking it up in the software.

Guarantees. Because tax returns involve so many situations and numbers, the potential for errors is real. It’s important that a given provider offers accuracy guarantees against mistakes made by the software.

Audit support. This may not be much of an issue with simple returns, but if you have a more complicated return it can be important. If there are any factors that might trigger an IRS audit like self-employment income, or high levels of personal deductions audit support may be a necessary service.

Do I need access to live help if I have a simple tax return?

Probably not. If your situation is simple, preparation will be just a matter of filling in a few boxes or downloading W-2s.

If it’s your first time doing your taxes yourself and you don’t have anyone experienced around you may want the reassurance of having a helping hand. Keep in mind you can upgrade at anytime. So if you start a return without help you can always add on that feature later.

What are the qualifications of live tax preparers offered by tax software programs?

In most cases, they’re either certified public accountants (CPAs) or enrolled agents (EAs). EAs are required to take courses in tax-preparation, then pass an IRS test covering both individual and business tax returns. Some, however, are former IRS agents.

Whether the live preparer is a CPA or an EA, they are fully qualified to prepare your tax returns, and can even represent you in an IRS audit. That makes them the equivalent of going to your friendly neighborhood CPA or tax preparer’s office.

Related: Best Tax Software for Investors

Final Thoughts

If you’re preparing your own tax returns this year and your tax situation is simple, you should definitely start out using free tax software. With most plans, you’ll be able to switch to a premium version if it turns out your return is more complicated than you originally expected. And if you choose the right software, it will be able to handle your returns if your tax situation becomes more complicated.

Chris Muller

Chris Muller

Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He's also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016. You can connect with Chris on Twitter @moneymozartblog.


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