Changes strengthen program; Free File can also help navigate new tax law provisions
WASHINGTON — An improved version of IRS Free File begins its 17th filing season as a dozen private-sector partners offer their brand-name products to help eligible taxpayers navigate the new tax reform law and electronically prepare their tax returns.
The free online software program, accessible only through IRS.gov, is available for taxpayers to use in advance of the start of the filing season on Jan. 28.
A number of changes were made to Free File this year, strengthening the program to make it even more taxpayer friendly. More than 53 million taxpayers have used Free File since the program’s inception. The public-private partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and the Free File Alliance provides free, brand-name tax software and free electronic filing to taxpayers who earned $66,000 or less last year. Some providers offer both free federal and free state tax preparation. Active duty military personnel with incomes of $66,000 or less may use any Free File software product offering a military option without regard to other criteria.
“Free File is an important tool that allows taxpayers free access to electronic filing of their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The program has been a great partnership with the private sector, and we’ve taken steps to improve Free File this year. With these changes to the Free File program as well as the new tax law, this is a great year for people to consider using this option for preparing their taxes.”
Starting today, taxpayers can go to http://www.irs.gov/freefile to find the Free File software product that matches their situation. Each partner sets its own eligibility standards, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can do their taxes online from IRS.gov or they can use the IRS2Go mobile app to access Free File and do their taxes on their mobile phones, tablets or any app-enabled device.
For taxpayers who earned more than $66,000, there is Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms which will be available when the IRS begins the filing season on Jan. 28.
Who can use Free File
Any individual or family whose adjusted gross income for 2018 was $66,000 or less can find at least one Free File software product they can use. Often, taxpayers are eligible for multiple products. The income limitation means that 100 million taxpayers – 70 percent – are eligible to use Free File.
Workers, families with children, first-time filers and seniors who meet the income criteria are all eligible for Free File. The software supports all the new tax law changes as well as long-time benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. While most products have a set of eligibility requirements, 10 Free File partners have a special offer for active duty military personnel by making their sole eligibility criteria an income of $66,000 or less.
IRS Free File is all that’s needed for residents of Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming where there is no state income tax. Some Free File partners offer free federal and free state return preparation. And some states have their own Free File program.
How to use Free File
Taxpayers can only access Free File from IRS.gov. To get started, simply go to IRS.gov/freefile. Use the “Help Me” tool to enter a bit of information such as age, income, and state residency. The tool will match the taxpayer with the software products. Generally, taxpayers will have several options from which to choose. Taxpayers also can review all the offers made by each of the 12 partners if they do not want to use the tool. Once taxpayers make their selection, they will be directed away from IRS.gov to the provider’s website to prepare their return.
Also, taxpayers can use the IRS2Go app to access Free File. Simply download the IRS2Go app onto any app-enabled device. From their phones or tablets, taxpayers can access the “Help Me” tool and go to the provider’s website to do their taxes.
Free File will be available to taxpayers from Jan. 11 through the mid-October deadline for extension filers. Taxpayers, regardless of income, also can use Free File to file an extension from the April 15 deadline.
New agreement offers new consumer protections
The IRS and the Free File Alliance, the consortium of the 12 partners, reached a new agreement recently to extend the Free File program through Oct. 31, 2021. This new memorandum of understanding also included several new consumer protections. These include:
Removing the “value-add” button from Free File partner landing pages. Free File members will remove any button or link on their Free File landing pages that would take taxpayers to non-Free File programs. The change is designed to improve the transparency of the program, and to make the navigation easier for taxpayers to use Free File.
Taxpayers can return to the IRS Free File page if they don’t qualify for an offer. To use Free File, taxpayers must use IRS.gov to connect to a company offering Free File. If the taxpayer doesn’t qualify for a free filing option on a particular member site, the new agreement requires these companies to offer taxpayers the option to easily return to IRS.gov to see if they qualify for another Free File offer.
Returning taxpayers’ first option must be Free File. If a taxpayer returns to a Free File member’s website the following year after using the free program, the first option after logging into their account will be the Free File option — before receiving any other offers from the company.
Follow-up emails to taxpayers who used Free File the previous year will welcome them back to the Free File service. This change will strengthen rules for members sending follow up emails to prior year customers, reminding them of the availability of Free File. To help increase program participation, Free File members will email prior year participants welcoming them back to the Free File program. The email cannot contain information about any non-Free File service or product or any other marketing or soliciting, except for free or paid state tax preparation offers.
Emphasis on the in-place review process. Both the IRS and a third party already review each Free File option before filing season to ensure the program standards are being followed by Free File members. The new agreement now reinforces this longstanding requirement, which has always also included an unannounced review during filing season.