A handful of states, including California, offer their own tax software programs on their websites that allow taxpayers to complete their returns and file them free of charge. Other options also exist for free—or almost free—preparation and filing.
California Direct Tax Filing
California has an online tax preparation tool called CalFile. For 2021 returns, CalFile is open to taxpayers of all filing statuses with federal adjusted gross incomes of up to $203,341 if you're single or married and filing a separate return. The limit increases to $305,016 for those filing as head of household, and $406,687 if you're married and filing a joint return or a qualifying widow(er).
If you want to use CalFile, you must have lived in California the entire year, and you can claim no more than 10 dependents.
The main sources of qualifying income you can claim with CalFile include:
- Wages, salary, and tips
- Taxable scholarships and grants that weren't reported on a Form W2.
- Interest and dividends reported on forms 1099-INT or 1099-DIV
- IRA distributions
- Social Security benefits reported on a 1099-R
Educators should remember that you cannot use CaFile if you claim more than $250 in educator expenses ($500 if you file married-filing-jointly).
Maine Direct Tax Filing
Maine offers FastFile and 1040 I-File, a tax preparation and e-file program for taxpayers with relatively simple returns. Enter your information, and the program will calculate your return. If you owe, you can pay electronically or request to delay your payment. If you're entitled to a refund, you'll receive it by direct deposit.
Not every taxpayer can use FastFIle, though. If you fall into one of the following categories, you can't file with FastFile:
- You file married-filing-jointly and someone else can claim you or your spouse as a dependent.
- You are a nonresident or part-time resident of Maine, all your income comes from Maine, and you claim either Schedule 1A income, or you claim any of the following credits: earned income tax credit, child care credit, adult dependent care credit.
- You'll claim credits for taxes paid to other jurisdictions (another state, for example)
- Your Maine return requires you to file Schedule NR, Schedule NRH, Form 2210ME, or as an injured or innocent spouse
- You claim income or credits on Schedule 1S
Massachusetts Direct Tax Filing
When you file, you'll need to provide the following information, as well as other documents the state may require:
- Copies your federal and state returns from the previous year
- All tax forms related to income and earnings (1099s included)
- Receipts for medical expenses and mortgage interest you claim
- The dollar amount of all child care expenses you paid
- The dollar amount of all rent you paid
If you find that you owe the state less than $5,000, you can set up an installment agreement that allows you to pay your tax debt over time via monthly payments.
Pennsylvania Direct Tax Filing
Pennsylvania's myPATH portal welcomes a wide range of taxpayers. The myPATH filing partial can handle a wide variety of income types, including:
- W-2 and 1099 income
- Income and dividends reported on up to two Pennsylvania Schedule A and Schedule B forms
- Rents and royalty reported on Schedule E
- Schedule SP tax forgiveness credits
- Gambling and lottery winnings on Schedule T
If my PATH doesn't accept the income you try to provide, you'll need to file a paper return or use a different website to file your state taxes.
Although they're not run by individual states, two websites also offer free state returns if you meet certain income requirements. United Way offers MyFreeTaxes.com for state returns, as does Credit Karma.
Other Filing Options
Many tax preparation software packages include free state returns. You may have to pay to prepare your federal return, but your state return is often included at no extra charge. Additionally, some of these programs are free for basic, uncomplicated returns for taxpayers with federal adjusted gross incomes of $72,000 a year or less as of the 2021 tax year.
For example, eFile.com offers state tax return preparation and filing starting at $28 in 2021. Due to recent tax law changes, you can only e-file a return through this site if you also e-file a federal return, but you're free to print out your completed return or returns and mail them in. California is the only exception to the rule.
More and more states are jumping on the technology bandwagon daily. It's cheaper for them, cutting administrative costs, and it's easier for you. Check directly with your state's Department of Revenue website for additional information.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can I file my state taxes online?
Yes, you can file your state taxes online. Four states have tax filing websites you can use to file your taxes directly with the state. The rest require you to file your state return via an online tax platform or through offline means like a tax preparer, tax software, or a paper return.
Can California taxes be filed online?
Yes, you can file your California taxes online through the state's CalFile website or through an online tax platform. If you file with CalFile, you'll have to meet certain requirements for income, residency, and deducted educator expenses.