Individuals may be able to prepare their federal tax returns for free by using the free file edition of FreeTaxUSA.
This is one of several free file tax software programs endorsed by the IRS’s Free File Alliance, which helps taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) of up to $72,000 or less to file their annual tax return for free if otherwise qualified by age and earned income tax credit (EITC).
To use FreeTaxUSA, you'll need to have an AGI less than $36,000, EITC, or be in the military on active duty. The service is free for filers in 23 states who meet the federal free requirements and costs $14.99 for those that don't.
The process can take approximately two hours to prepare a basic federal and state tax return. It includes contextual help, extension filings, a refund maximizer, and bookmarks for easier navigation.
Navigation and User Interface
FreeTaxUSA's user interface is easy to use with no downloads or special plug-ins required. The user interface does not provide pictures like other tax-preparation providers, but the software does vary the colors and boldness of fonts for a unique style.
The top-level navigation tabs enable the end-user to jump to personal information, income, deductions and credits, miscellaneous topics, a summary, their state, and a filing page. Clicking a drop-down arrow from the top-level navigation reveals a menu path to navigate to a specific section of the program, which can help a user save and return to various parts of their filing while it is still in draft mode.
Be sure to save between page navigation and sessions to avoid losing your work.
Users can also access the homepage, account information, and support through each page’s top-line header. Each account profile has some extra security measures that include an option to add two-step verification.
Below the top-level navigation, FreeTaxUSA places buttons to navigate to the previous page, bookmarks, topic list, and history. Users progress through the program by answering questions and clicking a "continue" button.
Income and Deductions Pages
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 information entry. Tax preparation begins with income, with the appropriate forms for addendum attachments if needed.
The program will automatically include the forms you need, based on the answers you provide.
After completing the income data-entry sections, FreeTaxUSA moves to the deductions/credits section. This section of the software asks a series of questions relating to:
The American Rescue Plan, which was passed in early 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, temporarily expanded eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 2021 and 2022, more households will qualify for this credit than in previous years, including more childless households, as well as taxpayers under age 25 and over age 65.
It then gives you an itemized outline of your data in summary form and applies tax breaks where available. The remainder of the process follows the miscellaneous, summary, state, and filing menu items.
Refund Maximizer Tool
At the end of the miscellaneous section, FreeTaxUSA offers a refund maximizer tool that goes through the tax return items and asks additional questions that can identify other tax breaks. Along the way, FreeTaxUSA provides a refund/payment tracker in the top right-hand corner.
When ready, FreeTaxUSA provides the opportunity for the user to review a PDF version of the federal tax return from the Federal Tax Summary page.
If you are satisfied with your federal return, you can then move on to your state return. The state return section automatically carries forward the federal information, which saves time in the data entry process.
The state return section also follows the same procedures for income, deductions/credits, and miscellaneous with questions specific for each state. At the end of the state section, you will also be able to view a PDF of your state return filing.
Next to the data entry fields, FreeTaxUSA places question marks in a red circle; clicking these will open a text box providing additional information on the subject of the field.
FreeTaxUSA has a decent support center for help. There is a link located on the right-hand side and top headline bar of each browser screen.
The support center does not have live chat or a live phone line; however, questions can be emailed to a representative, who generally responds within 24 hours.
There is also an article library available, where many questions can be answered. Included in the library are popular help topics such as common issues, page help, and a deduction dictionary.
Overall, FreeTaxUSA can be noted for its review functions, clear questioning, and thoroughness. Its refund maximizer takes extra steps to help the user identify any tax breaks they may have missed or overlooked.
It also has a nice style with helpful sidebars and headline links, along with different fonts, font sizes, and colors. It provides nearly everything you would expect from a do-it-yourself tax program.
It lacks personalized and immediate help features, but its information library is expansive and simple to navigate.