If you watch television, browse the web, or even listen to the radio, you’ve heard them: tax preparation apps promising to help you file your taxes for free. Try to actually use those apps, however, and it doesn’t take long before they ask you for money.

You might think your only option is to go along with that, but if you earned less than $66,000, there’s actually an official, truly free method: IRS Free File. This is a partnership between the IRS and several different tax preperation companies, and it offers you free software for working out and filing your taxes online. Companies like TurboTax and H&R Block are here, offering free versions of their software that won’t try to upsell you.

And even if you earn more than $66,0000, there are free fillable forms available that anyone can use to file their own taxes online. Here’s where to find these programs, and why they exist.

If You Earned $66,000 or Less: Free Tax Software

Not everyone knows this, but tax software companies including TurboTax and H&R Block offer free versions of their software to the majority of US taxpayers. Because we’re talking about taxes, however, things are a little more complicated than they need to be: different companies offer the free software to different people, and it can be complicated to work out which software you qualify for.

To get started, head to the official list of Free File Software Offers on the IRS website. You will see 12 different options, all with different qualifying requirements.

This is a little confusing, but the good thing is that all of these programs are free for anyone who qualifies. Even H&R Block and TurboTax, which are notorious for up-selling people halfway through the tax preparation process, will hold back on that if you stick to the Free File system.

Which of these options you use is going to depend on your financial situation as well as where you live, because each has different requirements. The most universal offering is H&R Block, which offers federal and state taxes for free to anyone between 17 and 50 earning $66,000 or less. Start there if that describes you, otherwise check out the other options.

Earning Over $66,000: Free File Fillablle Forms

The name manages to be alliterative without being catchy, in the way only government agencies can pull off. But Free File Fillable Forms also gives you exactly what it sounds like: online versions of tax forms that you can fill out and file for free. This isn’t tax preparation software: it’s basically an online version of the paper forms, along with a web portal for submitting them to the IRS. It’s only offered here for Federal taxes, but many states offer similar systems on their own websites.

Filing your taxes this way is not going to be simple, but it works. If you’re not willing to put in the work, consider looking into paid software, or hiring someone to help you out.

Tax companies offer this service as part of a deal with the IRS, as this On The Media story outlines. Check that out if you’re curious, but be warned: it’s infuriating.

Regardless of why the program exists, most people don’t know about it at all. Now you do, so you might as well take advantage.

Image Credit: FreeFile

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Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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