Do you dread tax season?
Sifting through receipts, W-2s, and other tax forms can be time-consuming, not to mention stress-inducing. Using the right tools can make this annual chore easier to tackle.
Tax calculators can help you estimate what you owe or how much of a refund you might get. We've rounded up the top free tax calculators to try as you prepare your tax returns this year.
Aside from being free to use, each calculator in our list can help you get a better grip on your tax filing, depending on your financial situation. Whether you plan to file your return using online tax software or by mail, these tax calculators can help you save time—and avoid headaches.
Whom it’s best for: People who are unsure about the right amount of tax to withhold
If you have a regular nine-to-five job, you've likely noticed a “tax withholding” dollar amount on your pay stubs. Your tax withholding, which you choose when you fill out a Form W-4 for your employer, determines how much money is taken from your paycheck to pay your taxes. Withhold too much money, and you'll get a tax refund; withhold too little, and you may owe taxes.
The IRS Tax Withholding Estimator is one of the top free tax calculators to use if you need help deciding how much tax to withhold. Since the IRS introduced a redesigned Form W-4 in 2020, it may be a good idea to run the numbers through the calculator to ensure that you're withholding the right amount.
There are five fields to complete:
- Personal information
- Income and withholding
- Income adjustments
- Income deductions
- Tax credits
Once you answer the included questions, the calculator shows you whether you're withholding too much, too little, or the right amount. If you need to adjust how much you withhold, tell your employer you’d like to revise your W-4.
The IRS requires your employer to put your W-4 changes into effect no later than the start of the payroll period that ends on or after 30 days from when you submitted your revision.
You may need to adjust your withholding if you experience a major life event that might affect your tax filing, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.
Whom it's best for: Tax filers who want to get a head start on planning how to use their refund
Curious about how much money you may get back in your tax refund? The average refund in 2020 was $2,549, according to the most recent IRS data available.
The TurboTax TaxCaster free tax calculator can give you a sneak peek at what your refund might be, based on the most recent tax laws. All you need to do to estimate your tax refund is answer questions or enter data about your:
- Filing status
- Wages and withholdings
- Credits and deductions
It’s free and takes just a couple of minutes of your time to estimate your tax refund.
Whom it's best for: Self-employed tax filers, freelancers, independent contractors, and gig workers
Self-employment has its perks—every day can be Casual Friday, and you don’t have a boss—but it can add an expensive wrinkle to your tax filing: self-employment tax (SE tax). SE tax is a combination of a 12.4% Social Security tax and a 2.9% Medicare tax. Normally, your employer would pay half of that 15.3%, tax but now that you’re on your own, you pay all of it.
TaxAct’s self-employment tax calculator can make it easier to estimate what you'll owe for self-employment tax. As far as top free tax calculators go, this one might be the simplest to use. Plug in your self-employment earnings for the year, and hit the “Calculate” button.
The calculator then breaks down:
- Total self-employment tax owed
- Social Security tax owed
- Medicare tax owed
- Self-employment tax rate
This can be useful for tax planning if you want to make sure you're paying enough in estimated quarterly taxes. Remember that underpaying estimated quarterly taxes could trigger a tax penalty.
Whom it's best for: Investors who bought and sold stocks during the past year
When you sell an investment for more than what you paid for it, the returns can trigger a capital gains tax. The IRS assesses this tax at a short- or long-term rate based on how long you held the investments.
If you sold stocks or other investments over the past year, you can use the TurboTax Capital Gains Tax Calculator to estimate what you may owe. To use this free calculator, you'll enter:
- 2020 filing status
- Estimated taxable income for 2020
- Total cost of investment
- Total proceeds from investments sold
- Whether you owned the investments for one year or less, or more than one year
Once you plug that information in, the calculator will tell you whether there's a capital gain or a capital loss. If there's a gain, it’ll estimate how much tax you may owe.
Harvesting tax losses by selling off losing stocks to offset gains can help minimize capital gains tax.
Whom it's best for: People interested in how much they may get from the third stimulus check Congress passed in the 2021 COVID relief bill
Economic Impact Payments can provide some much-needed cash if you're struggling financially. Eligibility for stimulus checks is based on your tax information, so Kiplinger’s Third Stimulus Check Calculator may be worth a look if Congress approves another round of funding in 2021. Stimulus checks aren’t taxable income, so they won't affect your tax bill.
Like the other top free tax calculators mentioned here, it costs nothing to use. All you need to do is enter your filing status from your 2020 tax return (or 2019 if you haven't filed yet), the number of dependents you’ll claim, and your adjusted gross income.