FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition

Helpful tax explanations and checks for overlooked deductions

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Individuals may be able to prepare their federal tax return for free using the free file edition of FreeTaxUSA. This is one of fourteen free file tax software programs.

Eligibility for free federal return: Individuals who are between the age of 17 and 75, with adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and reside in any state except AK, FL, NV, NH, SD, TN, TX, WA and WY.

Cost to prepare state tax return: $12.95

Time: just over one and a half hours to prepare a sample federal and state tax return.

Notable Features: contextual help, extensions, refund maximizer, bookmarks

Rating: 3.5 (How we test and rate tax software)

Navigation and User Interface:

FreeTaxUSA's user interface is easy to use with no downloads or special plugins required. The user interface does not provide pictures like TurboTax, but the software does vary the colors and boldness of the font. The top-level navigation enables the end user to jump to account information, personal information, income, deductions and credits, miscellaneous topics, summary, state, and filing. Clicking on a down-arrow from the top-level navigation reveals a menu path to navigate to a specific section of the program.

Off to the right-hand side of the browser, FreeTaxUSA has a Support Center, Account Center, and Tax Help. Support Center is where one finds a search box for help with the program and links to Top Issues, Where Do I Enter?, Contact Support, and a Deduction Dictionary.

From the Account Center, end users can edit their profile and file an extension.

Just under the top-level navigation, FreeTaxUSA places buttons to navigate to the previous page, bookmarks, and a topics list. Users navigate through the program by answering questions posed by the software and clicking the Continue button.

In contrast to other tax software that asks one question at a time, FreeTaxUSA places as much data entry on one screen as possible, thereby minimizing clicks. For example, the software's Form W-2 data entry screen makes good use of the browser's screen space and is formatted to look like how most W-2 forms are structured, and users can tab to the next data field. Another example, FreeTaxUSA puts most business-related expenses (Schedule C) on one screen, thereby enabling the user to input all the data on one screen without having to click around.

Help Features:

Next to data entry fields FreeTaxUSA places question marks in a red circle; clicking those will open a text box providing additional information.

FreeTaxUSA has a very good help section. There is a Support Center located on the right-hand side of the browser screen with "where do I enter" section listing various types of forms and topics. Clicking on those links takes the user to a page describing the topic and describing how to find where to enter the information using the menu path. It is very helpful. Also included in this help section is Top Issues, Contact Support, and Deduction Dictionary. There is also a Tax Help widget showing help articles related to the page the user is currently on.

Overall Experience of the Software:

After completing the data entry sections, FreeTaxUSA asks if users want to go through a refund maximizer. This section of the software asks a series of questions relating to dependents, deductions, and credits, and then figures out if there are tax breaks the user might have overlooked.

FreeTaxUSA provides the opportunity for the user to review a PDF version of the federal tax return from the Federal Tax Summary page. FreeTaxUSA's help functions are thorough and handy.  Also, the software has a function to bookmark pages to re-visit later.

FreeTaxUSA lacks a refund tracker (a common feature implemented in other tax software). The user receives the Refund/Payment amount at the end at the completion of the tax return on the Federal Tax Summary page. You are not able to see the State Filing Documents until you pay for state tax preparation.

FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition is better than the free versions of TurboTax and H&R Block. Its Support Center and Tax Help Menu really make it shine in user-friendliness. We also like its overall look with different font sizes/thicknesses and colors. And the clincher for us was that we could download the PDF file of the Federal Tax Forms created before either printing them or e-filing them to the IRS. This also gives users a second chance to review their numbers in real time with real schedules before printing it out.  The downside was that you couldn't do the same with the State since you have to pay before downloading the state PDF, although FreeTaxUSA does provide a worksheet of the state return displaying the refund/payment due.

Overall, FreeTaxUSA earned high marks for its help features, good use of screen space, and review functions.

To check out the software for yourself, visit FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition.

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