FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition

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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 several free file tax software programs. These programs are supported by the IRS’s Free File Alliance which helps taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) of $66,000 or less to file their annual tax return for free.

Eligibility for free federal return with FreeTaxUSA: AGI less than $35,000, Earned Income Tax Credit, or active duty in the military

Cost to prepare state tax return: Free for filers in 21 states who meet the federal free requirement and $12.95 for other filers

Time: Approximately two hours to prepare a basic federal and state tax return

Notable Features: Contextual help, extension filings, refund maximizer, bookmarks

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (Reviews of Free File Tax Preparation Programs)

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 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, 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. This can help a user to save and return to various parts of their filing while it is still in draft mode.

Off to the right-hand side of the pages, FreeTaxUSA has a Support Center. The Support Center is where one finds a search box for help with the program and links to contact support along with popular help topics including: Top Issues, Help with this Page, Where Do I Enter?, and a Deduction Dictionary.

Users can also access the homepage, account information, and support through each page’s topline header. Each account profile has some extra security measures including the option to add two-step verification.

Just under the top-level navigation, FreeTaxUSA places buttons to navigate to the previous page, bookmarks, topic list, and history. 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 information entry. The tax preparation begins with income. Income includes: common income, business and rental income, and uncommon income – all with the appropriate forms for addendum attachments.

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 dependents, health care, expenses, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Home Energy Credit. 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 headline filters for miscellaneous, summary, state and filing.

At the end of the miscellaneous section, FreeTaxUSA offers a refund maximizer which goes through the tax return items and asks additional questions that could potentially 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, miscellaneous, and summary with specific questions for each state. At the end of the state section you will also be able to view a PDF of your state return filing.

Help Features:

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

FreeTaxUSA has a decent Support Center for help. There is a Support Center 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. Questions can be searched resulting in articles from the site’s library. Specific questions can also be emailed to a representative who will respond within 24 hours.

Other help features include links to: Top Issues, Help with this Page, Where Do I Enter?, and Deduction Dictionary. These navigation links are provided on each page which can be helpful when a user is working on a specific page’s topic.

Overall Experience:

Overall, FreeTaxUSA earns high marks 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 font sizes/thicknesses and colors. Comprehensively it provides nearly everything you would expect from a do it yourself tax program with clear PDF copies of the final filing forms for review. It does lack a bit in personalized help but its information library is expansive for searching help topics.

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