Can you really “file for free”? [2017 UPDATE]

March 3, 2017


Americans from sea to shining sea have one thing in common this time of year, filing their taxes. Or they should be. If not, they’ll likely hear from the IRS sometime soon.

This year, there has been quite a push with several of the major tax software companies to promote “free” filing of taxes. And yes, in some cases it actually is free. If you happen to be filing the most basic of forms. For anyone else, you know filing with those pesky deductions, there will be a fee. Let’s take a look at those… promises “$0 Fed & $0 State” and “Start for Free”. – And their website says the service is free for the estimated 42% who file a 1040EZ or 1040A. If you add importing prior year data and phone support that goes up to $14.99. Any deductions and the price bumps to between $24.99 and $34.99. Not an unreasonable amount. And they do offer the actual “free” option to a good sized chuck of those who use the service.

2017 UPDATE: TaxAct now claims you can file for “up to $53 less than TurboTax”. For a simple 1040EZ or 1040A + State, the service is still free. Start adding forms for investments and business and the price goes up to $27 for Plus, or $37 for Premium services. And you might get dinged for $33 for a “complex” state return. Still, it is the best value of those I’ve looked at. offers “Free Federal Filing”. – Again, customers can “Start for Free”, and again the most basic filings cost nothing through their online service. If you get into something more, like those deductions again, the fees go up significantly to between $54.99 and $104.99. TurboTax also got into hot water with it’s customers last year when they removed some basic business forms from their Deluxe version ($54.99) and made them exclusive to Home & Business ($104.99) without bothering to mention it to anyone. That was one Amazon ranking that skyrocketed downward. For the current filing year, those forms were returned to the Deluxe version.

2017 UPDATE: This year, TurboTax is pushing their “Absolute Zero” program. Like TaxAct, that means basic 1040EZ/A forms are free. Anything additional bumps the pricing to Deluxe for $54.99 (at this writing, on sale for $34.99). Add investments/rental property and it goes to Premier for $79.99 (on sale for $54.99). If you have a business, their Self-Employed option is $104.99 (on sale for $79.99. states that their service is “Free: Best for first-time tax filers.” The neighboring button offers what appears to be their only other variant, “$54.99: Best for homeowners or investors.” So they cover the basics here, but could be a bit clearer on first glance about what the services are. Drilling down a bit further, they actually have several price points in their model. “Free” is offered, but only for the most minimalistic filing. Basic – $29.95 is “best for simple tax solutions”. Deluxe – $54.95 is “best for homeowners or investors”. Premium – $74.95 is “best for self-employed / rental property owners”. Premium & Business – $89.95 is “best for small business owners”. At all levels there is an additional fee for state returns/filing of between $29.99 and $39.99.

2017 UPDATE: H&R Block is going right after TurboTax this year with their “More Zero” program. Like the other two, free filing is offered for basic 1040EZ/A, but they also add the fairly common Schedule A to the free mix. Beyond that their pricing is eerily similar to TurboTax. Deluxe for $54.99 (on sale for $34.99). Premium for $79.99 (on sale for $54.99). Both of the latter options also charge $36.99 per state filing.


In all cases, they seem to let you know how much you owe them once you’ve input whatever data would send it to that next level. The upside of this little exercise is that in most cases the money that you pay for tax preparation is deductible.

Whichever option you choose, be it one of these services or going through a tax professional, make sure that you go through the final return yourself before you file it. Even if the service offers a “double-check”. Ask questions. Be comfortable with what you are signing, even with a virtual signature. Because you are ultimately responsible for what is filed in your name with the IRS.

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