If you make $66,000 annually or less, you can take advantage of a unique partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and the tax preparation industry that, each year, provides about a dozen tax preparation software options at no charge for filing your tax return. In the 16 years the Free File system has been in place, over 53 million returns have been filed for free. In November 2018, the IRS announced updates to the Free File program that make the program even easier to use while offering taxpayers greater consumer protection. These changes are in place for the 2019 tax filing season, and the agreement between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, the tax industry participating companies, is extended until 2021.
Free File Fillable Forms Program
The Free File program not only provides free software for qualifying taxpayers, anyone, regardless of income, can take advantage of Free File Fillable Forms, a version of Form 1040 that can be completed by hand, designed for the experienced taxpayer who requires little assistance when completing their return.
Perhaps the biggest changes to the Free File program are the updated guidelines for the Free File Alliance partners intended to make the process easier for the taxpayer, by tuning the way related information can be presented during the Free File experience. Some of the big changes include:
First Option Requirement
If a taxpayer has used Free File in the past, the first option presented when they log into their account with a Free File Alliance partner must be Free File, before the partner offers any other tax preparation package at a cost. This is designed to reduce confusion about services that are free and those that come with a price tag.
Following Year Followup
Similarly, when a Free File Alliance partner uses an email campaign to contact taxpayers who used their Free File services in past, they must welcome the taxpayer back to the Free File program. No information about non-Free File services can be included in these emails, with the exception of state tax preparation packages, whether these are free or paid. While some Free File Alliance partners offer free state tax preparation services, others do not. Only federal returns must be free to qualify as a tax preparation partner.
IRS Page Hub
To use Free File, taxpayers must go through the website at IRS.gov. If they don’t qualify for Free File services offered by an alliance partner, that partner must redirect the taxpayer back to the IRS site, since there may be other Free File offers for which the taxpayer may qualify.
Landing Page Redirects
Free File Alliance members can no longer include links to non-free tax preparation products on the landing page for taxpayers using Free File services. This is to reduce confusion over which services are free, since some taxpayers have followed these redirects in error, thinking them part of the Free File offerings.
Tax rules and regulations change often and sometimes unexpectedly. The Free File program already includes review processes by both the third-party tax preparation provider and the IRS. This round of refinements to the Free File program reinforces the in-place review process and it continues to include unannounced blind reviews of Free File tax products during the tax filing season, so taxpayers can be assured that whichever Free File Alliance product they choose, it will complete their return accurately with the most recent tax information.
The IRS considers the Free File program a success and the 2018 changes make an already effective offering even better. Combined with simplifications to Form 1040, using software provided by the Free File Alliance third-party providers should reduce both the time and cost burdens for low and low-middle income taxpayers.