Reviews of Free Tax Preparation Programs

Individuals may be eligible to prepare a federal tax return at no cost using Web-based tax software made available through Free File. The IRS has teamed up with fourteen software companies to make tax preparation free or low-cost for most Americans with incomes under $62,000. Each software provider sets its own criteria for being eligible for a free federal tax return.

We prepared a sample tax return using each of the fourteen Free File software programs. We noted each program's user interface, navigation, help content, and error-checking features. Then, each program was ranked on a five-point scale based on our testing criteria.

  • 5-star rating means the tax software offers exceptional functionality in preparing this year’s tax return and to plan for next year’s.
  • 4-star rating means the tax software provides top-notch functionality both to prepare this year's tax return and plan next year's taxes.
  • 3.5-star rating: tax software is fully functional and provides useful help, easy-to-understand navigation, and may have some error-checking or planning features.
  • 3-star rating: tax software is fully functional to prepare a tax return.
  • 2.5-star rating: tax software is functional and may be lacking in help, navigation or error-checking, or we may have encountered some difficulties that we were later able to resolve.
  • 2-star rating: tax software lacks functionality is at least one core area of preparing a tax return which prevented us from completed the test scenario.
  • 1-star rating: tax software for which we were not able to finish preparing a tax return due to lack of functionality, infected with viruses or malware, or poses security threats.

The Free File software programs are sorted by rating (from highest to smallest), and those with the same rating are sorted alphabetically.

FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition

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3.5 stars. FreeTaxUSA earned high marks for its help features, good use of screen space, and review functions. The software's Support Center and Tax Help Menu really make it shine in user-friendliness.

Free for federal use: 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.

State returns cost $12.95. More

TaxACT Free File Edition

3.5 stars. TaxACT's colorful and friendly interface and strong help functions makes the software highly useful. TaxACT gets high marks for including a withholding calculator, FAFSA worksheets, and guidance on the new health insurance mandate.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $52,000 or less and are between the ages of 18 and 57.

State returns cost $14.99. Free state returns available for residents of AR, AZ, DC, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, MS, ND, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, VT, and WV.

TaxSlayer Free File Edition

3.5 stars. TaxSlayer earns high marks for offering users multiple ways to navigate the software, its simple and uncluttered design, and explanations of tax topics. Available in English or Spanish.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $30,000 or less.

State returns cost $25. More

TurboTax Free File Edition

3.5 stars. TurboTax gets high marks for its easily accessible help content, frequent reviews to check for errors and professional look and feel. Additional features for preparing an extension or amended return, and helps calculate withholding allowances.

Free for federal use:

  • Adjusted gross income of $30,000 or less, or
  • Adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less for Active Military, or
  • Eligible for the earned income credit.

State returns cost $14.99, or free for residents of AR, AZ, DC, DE, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT, or WV.

1040.com Free File Edition

3 stars. Efficient, though not glitzy, 1040.com's help functions are pretty decent, the error check caught a data entry error, and we were able to jump from one part of the tax software to another part when needed. Offers free extensions.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and age 52 or younger.

State returns cost $19.95. More

EfileTaxReturns Free File Edition

3 stars. EFileTaxReturns has a nicely designed interface with contextual help, and it's easy to navigate to different parts of the software. The software checks for errors at the end of the tax preparation process.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income between $4,000 and $58,000 and reside in any state except AK, FL, NV, SD, TN, TX, WA and WY.

State returns cost $24.95. More

ezTaxReturn Free File Edition

3 stars. EZ Tax Return is really great software for the intermediate to more advanced user as the worksheet-based data input screens minimize clicking and speed up the tax preparation process. The limited help content, however, makes EZ Tax Return more difficult for the casual user.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and resides in AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, IL, LA, MA, MD, MI, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, VA, or  WI.

State returns cost $19.95.

H&R Block Free File Edition

3 stars. H&R Block's At Home Free File Edition is very functional, no-frills Web-based tax software. The software features sophisticated error checking and is backed by H&R Block's "worry-free audit support." It is cumbersome to go back and change one's answers if one happens to pick the wrong answer, and help content is limited.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and age 52 or younger.

State returns cost $14.99, or free for residents of AR, AZ, DE, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, MS, ND, NC, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT, WV, or DC.

Tax Simple Free File Edition

3 stars. Tax Simple deserves praise for building tax software with the ability to switch back and forth between an interview-style and a forms-style interface. Due to its lack of content in the help section, Tax Simple is probably best suited for people who are willing to look up tax information on their own.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, are age 62 or younger, and reside in any state except for AK, FL, NH, NV, SD, TN, TX, WA, and WY.

State returns cost $24.95. More

1040NOW Free File Edition

2.5 stars. 1040NOW provides an excellent summary of new tax changes for 2013, however, the software's interface and navigation flow can be confusing in places.

Free for federal use:

  • Either (1) adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and residing in the states of AL, AZ, AR, CA, GA, ID, IN, IA, KY, MI, MN, MS, MO, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, VT, VA or WV;
  • Or (2) adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and age 60 or younger, and  residing in the states of CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MT, NE, NJ, NM, OH, PA, UT or WI.

State returns cost $17.95. More

FileYourTaxes Free File Edition

2.5 stars. FileYourTaxes checks for errors after each data input screen and can file extensions. However, the software's navigation may be particularly frustrating for some people.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income between $9,000 and $58,000 and are between the age of 16 and 69.

State returns cost $24.50. More

Free 1040 Tax Return Free File Edition

2.5 stars. Free 1040 Tax Return is fully functional tax software. The software's interface and navigation made the tax preparation process feel confusing, even though in the end we found where to enter all our data. The software does not provide any review functions and offers limited help content. Free 1040 Tax Return is suited for people who are already familiar with how to prepare tax returns.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, are age 71 or younger, and residing in any state except FL, NH, NV, SD, TN and TX.

State returns cost $14.95, $19.95, or $24.95. More

Online Taxes (OLT) Free File Edition

2.5 stars. While OnLine Taxes is a fully functional tax preparation program, the biggest drawback is the lack of more contextual help to explain particular tax topics. The software can prepare extensions and amended returns.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income between $13,000 and $58,000.

State returns are free. More

eSmartTax Free File Edition

2 stars. eSmart Tax provides a fine experience for taxpayers with relatively simple tax situations. The software's help functions are limited to providing answers to eleven commons questions. However, we were not able to complete our sample tax return due to an error message relating to rental income that we couldn't resolve. So, it's not recommended for landlords with rental properties.

Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and between the ages of 18 and 54.

State tax returns cost $19.95. More