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How to File Taxes for Free (and When to Consider Paying Instead)

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February 7, 2018
Mailbox: Filing taxes for free; when it makes sense to pay
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Is it possible to file taxes for free? Yes, it is. This is not a dream.

There are indeed some situations where it makes sense to do your taxes yourself and file those taxes at no cost. Of course, no two tax returns are the same, and there are times when paying someone to handle calculating your tax owing or refund might be a better option.

How to File Taxes For Free

Hans Scheil, certified financial planner and chief executive officer of North Carolina–based Cardinal Retirement Planning, says taking the free route is a good way to file for people who have very basic returns.

“I think it’s fine if you have a simple form. If you have W-2 income from a job, and you’re going to use the standard deduction, or even if you list a few simple deductions, I think you’ll be fine,” Scheil says.

There are a few ways to file for free. One is to go straight to the Internal Revenue Service website and look for “free file software.” People whose income is below $66,000 can get access to free federal and state return options.

You can also use software like TurboTax Absolute Zero, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, certified public accountant and tax expert at TurboTax. She says taxpayers who file using forms 1040A or 1040EZ, have a taxable income of $100,000 or less, and take the standard deduction will pay nothing to file both federal and state returns.

“We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to get our customers a personalized experience,” she says. “Also new this year for free customers: they can import their prior-year tax return for free. That also eliminates data entry, because that comes into the tax return.”

Why Pay?

For tax returns that take a little more time, such as itemizing deductions, low-cost software is available, such as the classic TurboTax Deluxe. TurboTax also has new software designed for specific industries, such as for people who have rental property or are self-employed, Greene-Lewis says.

Another option is to hire a professional to do your taxes. Scheil and Gregory Hammer, president of Hammer Financial Group in Northwest Indiana, say one of the biggest reasons to hire a tax professional to do your taxes is when you’ve had a big life event. Those include marriage, having children, retiring, a spouse dying, or receiving an inheritance. Such life events can not only change your tax bracket, but might also require the filing of additional forms.

No matter how you file your taxes, most returns will end up with accurate results, Hammer says. However, sometimes tax professionals can find lesser-known state credits or deductions that can help boost refunds.

At tax time, it might be tempting to just consider the current year’s return. But, Hammer says, working with someone who can help you plan to mitigate future tax bills could be worthwhile. A planner can look at what you’re doing now and make a few changes that, down the road, can affect your future tax returns, he says.

“The challenge is whether you’re doing things to change the input to change the output,” he says.

Go Paperless

TD Ameritrade clients can sign up for electronic delivery of tax documents and stop receiving paper documents.

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