The U.S. tax season is on and April 15 is the deadline for filing the Federal tax returns for 2011 without a penalty.  

The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) Web site has partnered with some top tax preparation and filing software providers to help the citizens with the filing of federal tax returns. All these services provide free Web-based solutions with basic features like calculating the tax while assist the user filing and getting refunds.

All these programs give features like free e-filing, printing and submitting the returns by USPS, review the forms for errors and alert the user on possible omissions and problems, guide on getting easy tax refunds. Some of the programs give additional features for their free editions.

All the free IRS tax filing programs help the user file state tax at an additional cost. In case of some IRS filers, free service is given to users whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) falls within a certain slab.

Here is a list of top IRS free tax filing programs rated on the basis of ease to use, free features, speed and accuracy.

1.       TurboTax: TurboTax has both free and premium versions and this year they have also introduced an IRS tax filing application for iPads also. It is fast, simple and accurate.

 They also provide free one-to-one live chat from their tax experts on any tax returns-related issues. State Tax return comes at an additional cost of $27.95. TurboTax has both online/download and CD versions.

The drawback is that TurboTax free edition is best for simple and straight tax solutions and not suitable if you have complex tax situation with multiple incomes from rent, dividends and other credits. In such case, you need an upgrade with additional costs depending on your needs.

2.       TaxACT:  TaxACT software is easy to use and accurate. TaxACT has both downloadable and online versions. It has a simple step-to-step guidance as well as quick filing form for preparing the returns and the interface is relatively hassle-free.  

It gives access to all the basic features, but not to tips and high end tools section in its free version. However, it has new technical help facility called Answer Center that gives personalized free support for user's queries.

 State tax returns cost an additional $14.95. Tax ACT is also iPad compatible.

3.       H&R Block at Home Free File: H&R Block was previously branded as TaxCut. It is the best tax filing application for simple tax situations. It is quick and easy, the users also have access to tips section. It is comparatively fast and has an easy user interface.  State Tax Returns will cost an additional $27.95.  

4.       eSmart Tax: eSmart tax is an easy-to-use IRS tax filing software. It offers it basic service free of cost. eSmart provides step-by-step help simple returns and allows free import of last year's data.  It is user friendly and completes the process with asking minimum questions on your tax situation.  It takes care of all regular expenses like education credits, income from social security etc.

5.       CompleteTax: It is user friendly and quick. The service includes W-2 and 1099 importing, technical support and chat and covers earned income tax credit, educational credits and more.

The CompleteTax also gives its premium version free for those users who have received their unemployment benefit in year 2011. The state tax return costs additional $29.95.