IRS Free File 2016 now available
Taxpayers who want to take advantage of the Internal Revenue Service’s free tax preparation e-filing program won’t have to wait. The IRS Free File 2016 program opens to taxpayers on Jan. 15, four days before the IRS starts processing 2015 tax returns.
And for the 2016 filing season, a few more taxpayers should be able to use the Free File option. The income eligibility limit has been increased to $58,000. That’s $1,000 more than last year.
IRS Free File 2016 basics
- You can file your 2015 tax return through Free File if your adjusted gross income is $58,000 or less.
- The income cutoff applies regardless of your filing status.
- Free File is for individual, not business, tax returns. However, a sole proprietor who files Schedule C with Form 1040 can use Free File.
- Some participating Free File vendors also offer free state tax return preparation and e-file.
- Some Free File companies offer free electronic extensions. But remember, you still must pay any taxes due by the April 18 deadline or you’ll be charged interest and possibly penalties on any tax you owe.
- You do not download anything. All of the software, which is encrypted to protect privacy, remains at the Free File company website you select, and your return is filed from there.
- Access Free File by going to IRS.gov and clicking on the Free File icon. Beware of offers by outside websites to take you to the Free File website, as they could be scams operated by identity thieves.
The Free File program is a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of tax preparation software manufacturers. Fourteen companies are expected to participate in the program this filing season.
“All the (2014 filing season tax software companies) have done it before. We have experienced providers within the commercial world and the Free File world,” says Tim Hugo, executive director of the Clifton, Va.-based Free File Alliance.
Free File was created in 2003 as a way to get more people to e-file. Its target is taxpayers who might otherwise not e-file because they don’t want or can’t afford to pay the cost of the computer filing programs or professional tax help.
The key qualification for Free File services is income. This year, taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, regardless of filing status, can use the online program.
Participating tax software companies can establish other eligibility requirements. Some may limit usage of their programs based on geographic location, military service or other criteria.
To determine which software best fits your filing needs, the Free File website includes an online search tool to help you select one of the participating Free File companies.
Free File contributions to e-filing
In 2013, almost 144 million tax returns were filed electronically, according to IRS data complete through May 2013. That represents a nearly 2% increase in e-filed returns over the previous year. The sector that showed the most growth last year, according to IRS statistics, was tax returns prepared and filed by taxpayers on their own.
Around 3 million of those self-prepared returns e-filed last year came through Free File, says Hugo. That number has held steady for the past few years.
Three million of those returns e-filed last year came through Free File, says Tim Hugo, executive director of the Clifton, Va.-based Free File Alliance.
“We would love to have more,” says Hugo, but he points to the program’s overall contribution to e-filing. Since its inception, says Hugo, Free File has accounted for the submission of more than 40 million federal returns.
“We get people in the door for e-filing, people who’ve never e-filed before,” says Hugo. “They may go to a commercial product later on, but they will continue to e-file. We are very pleased with that.”
Hugo says the program also has evolved to meet taxpayer needs. “We look at Free File as a three-legged stool,” he says. “There is the traditional Free File, fillable forms and VITA providing services to every income.”
Working with VITA
The filing needs of lower-income taxpayers are addressed through Free File’s continuing partnership with the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, popularly known as VITA.
VITA tax-filing clinics are set up each year in public places — from libraries to community centers to shopping malls. Its volunteers provide free filing assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers who might not be able to afford tax software or professional filing help. This filing season, the services of IRS-certified VITA volunteers are available to people who make $52,000 or less.
Hugo says Free File is again placing kiosks, similar to self-checkout stations in retail stores, at VITA sites nationwide.
“You can do your return there or partially do your return and, if you need help, ask a VITA volunteer,” says Hugo. “This helps some of those who are most in need of tax help.”
The IRS has an online search tool to help taxpayers locate a nearby VITA site. Taxpayers also can call (800) 906-9887 for VITA locations.
Free fillable forms remain
The IRS says that Free File is available to 70% of taxpayers. But if you are among the 30% making too much money to use the service, you still can file for free using the tax agency’s fillable federal return form option.
Here, online versions of the most commonly used IRS tax forms are available through the Free File page. You fill them out on your computer and then e-file the documents at no charge.
Just don’t mistake the forms for tax software.
The fillable forms offer only basic calculations of what’s entered on the form. And you must figure out what goes on the form without the online prompting found in software.
Also, the information is not automatically transferred to associated forms. That means you must, for example, manually enter your itemized deductions total from Schedule A to the appropriate line on Form 1040.
Still, taxpayers with relatively simple filing needs who don’t want to buy tax software might find fillable forms a welcome alternative.
Note, however, that you’ll have to wait a bit longer to use the free fillable forms option. They won’t be available until Jan. 31, the same day that the IRS opens its filing doors to all taxpayers.
The Internal Revenue Service and Free File Alliance today announced the launch of Free File with many changes and updates for 2016, including more free state tax return options and easier Form W-2 imports.
For 2016, there are 13 brand-name tax software providers making their federal tax return products available for free. Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income was $62,000 or less during 2015 are eligible for at least one, if not more, of the 13 tax software products. The income limitation is $2,000 higher than last year. People can use Free File software immediately but e-filed returns will not be transmitted to the IRS until Tuesday, Jan. 19, when the filing season officially begins.
For taxpayers who earned more than $62,000, there’s Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. Free File Fillable Forms will be available on Jan. 19.
“You don’t have to be an expert on taxes. Free File software can help walk you through the steps and help you get it right,” said John A. Koskinen, IRS Commissioner. “For 13 years, this partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance has helped taxpayers. The real winner in this partnership has been the nation’s taxpayers.”
Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance, said, “We are proud to once again offer the industry’s most innovative and secure tax software at no cost to 70 percent of American taxpayers. Tax time can be stressful, but Free File makes step-by-step help accessible to everyone making $62,000 or less. IRS.gov/FreeFile is the one place where taxpayers can choose from a variety of industry-leading tax software options in order to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at absolutely no cost.”
Free File is available only at IRS.gov/FreeFile. Since 2003, more than 46 million people have used Free File, saving nearly $1.4 billion based on a conservative $30-fee estimate.
The Free File Alliance and its members also are active participants in the Security Summit Initiativeto provide additional identity theft safeguards for tax filing and for the Security Awareness campaign – Taxes. Security. Together. – that encourages taxpayers to take steps to better protect their data.
For 2016, more Free File software providers are offering both free federal and free state tax return preparation for states with income tax requirements. Some providers also are offering state tax return preparation for a fee. State tax return offers are at the discretion of the providers.
Additionally, new for this year, several software providers also are offering the easy importation of Form W-2 information which can help reduce errors.
More than 70 percent of all taxpayers — 100 million people — are eligible for the software products. Each of the 13 companies has its own special offers, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can review each company offer or they can use a “Help Me” tool that will find the software for which they are eligible, including which companies offer a free state return.
Free File also can help taxpayers with the new health care requirements. Just as last filing season, almost everyone will need to do something when filing a tax return this year. For each month in 2015, taxpayers and everyone on their return must:
- Report health care coverage, or
- Claim an exemption from coverage or
- Make a shared responsibility payment with their tax return.
Most people will simply have to check a box to report health care coverage for the entire year.
If a taxpayer or anyone on their return purchased coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace, they may be eligible for the premium tax credit. If they opted for any advance payments of the premium tax credit to help with their monthly insurance premium payments, they must file a tax return, even if they were not required to file. Taxpayers must reconcile their advance payments with the amount they were due. Learn more at IRS.gov/aca.
Taxpayers have the option to prepare their return at any time and schedule a tax payment as late as the tax deadline, which, for 2016, is April 18. Taxpayers who cannot meet the April 18 tax filing deadline can also use Free File to file a six-month extension.
Remember, the fastest way to get your refund is through e-file and direct deposit. Direct deposit is fast, safe and easy. Just have your routing number and account number handy. Nine out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days.
For 2016, Free File can also help taxpayers with myRA a new, free, retirement savings account from the Treasury Department. Taxpayers who have a myRA account may use Free File to deposit their tax refund or a portion of their refund into their myRA account. Just use Form 8888 or follow your software product’s instructions.