Your 2015 Tax Return May Not Cost You a Dime

By Markets Fool.com

Photo: Flickr user John Morgan.

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If you're still trying to figure out how you're going to do your return, or you're worried about the cost of your favorite tax-prep software, be sure to look into the IRS Free File program. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $62,000, you may be able to use name-brand software at no cost. And you may be able to get one-on-one tax help absolutely free.

Here's what you need to know about these programs that can keep more of your money in your pocket at tax time.

IRS Free File -- name-brand tax software for free
Thanks to a cooperative effort between the IRS and some of the most widely used tax-preparation software providers, it's now possible for low- to moderate-income taxpayers to use name-brand software at no cost. Known as IRS Free File, the adjusted gross income (AGI) limit for using the program is $62,000, which includes about 70% of all taxpayers. A quick look at the IRS Free File website shows that there are currently 13 options.

It's important to mention that each software provider sets its own requirements in regards to age and income for Free File eligibility. For example, TurboTax is the most-popular tax-prep software, but the AGI limit to use it through Free File is $31,000, not the $62,000 program limit. With that in mind, here are the participants in the Free File program, and the qualifications you'll need to meet in order to use each one.

Software provider

AGI requirements

Age requirements

Other info

eSmart

$62,000 or less

Between 18 and 54

FreeTaxUSA

$62,000 or less

Between 17 and 74

Active military with AGI < $62,000 automatically qualifies

TaxSlayer

$62,000 or less

52 or younger

Active military with AGI < $62,000 automatically qualifies

ezTaxReturn.com

$62,000 or less

All ages

Must live in AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, IL, LA, MA, MD, MI, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, VA, or WI

TaxACT

$50,000 or less

56 or younger

If you're active military with AGI < $62,000, or eligible for the EITC, you qualify

TurboTax

$31,000 or less

All ages

If you're active military with AGI < $62,000, or eligible for the EITC, you qualify

1040NOW.NET

$62,000 or less

All ages if you live in AL, AR, AZ, CA, GA, IA, ID, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NY, OK, OR, RI, SC, VA, VT or WV

Must be 60 or younger in these states: CO, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, KS, LA, MA, MD, ME, MT, NE, NJ, NM, OH, PA, UT or WI

1040.com

$62,000 or less

52 or younger

Jackson Hewitt

$62,000 or less

49 or younger

If you're eligible for the EITC, you qualify

FileYourTaxes.com

Between $8,000 and $62,000

Between 15 and 65

OLT.com

Between $13,000 and $62,000

All ages

Free1040TaxReturn.com

$62,000 or less

70 or younger

Can live in any state except FL, NH, NV, SD, TN, or TX

H&R Block

$62,000 or less

Between 17 and 50

Active military with AGI < $62,000 automatically qualifies

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Source: IRS.

Things to keep in mind
There are a couple of things you need to know before you get started. First, in order to get the free pricing, you must enter each software provider's website through the IRS portal, not by going to their websites directly. If you don't do this, you may be asked to pay, even if you qualify to Free File.

Additionally, if you need to file a state return, it's not necessarily going to be free. Some of the software providers provide free state returns for all states if you qualify, while others only do so for certain states, and some don't offer free state returns at all. If it looks like you may have to pay to file your state return through the software provider, you may be able to go through your state's tax website and file it for free there.

If you need more help
In addition to the Free File program, the IRS has two other programs designed to provide free tax help to those who need it most -- lower-income individuals and the elderly.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is intended to provide free tax help to the following groups:

  • People who make $54,000 or less
  • People with disabilities
  • Taxpayers who speak limited English

The other program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE), offers free help to seniors, and has volunteers who specialize in pensions and retirement-related tax issues.

Both of these programs will help prepare less-complicated returns, including forms such as W-2, 1099, and will help you claim various deductions and credits. They will not, however, prepare complicated tax returns, such as those involving a Schedule C with business losses. The IRS provides a full list of what the volunteers will and will not do, as well as what you should bring to the volunteer location.

The bottom line is that, if you need help with your taxes, you may be able to get some face-to-face help, or access to a helpful software program at absolutely no cost.

The article Your 2015 Tax Return May Not Cost You a Dime originally appeared on Fool.com.

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