For starters, ambitious filers can always do it on their own by filling out the e-file forms the IRS — and in some cases, state tax departments — make available online. But an increasing number of tax-preparation software companies offer to help — for free.
Most recently, Credit Karma announced Credit Karma Tax, a do-it-yourself tax prep service at no cost. It covers a 1040 (the standard federal income tax form) and is best suited for simpler returns. (Those with multistate filings or a trust or farm subsidies would still be better off with an accountant who can offer advice as well as assistance, according to Credit Karma's founder and CEO, Kenneth Lin.)
Another such service is Absolute Zero from TurboTax, which launched three years ago for taxpayers filing federal 1040A or 1040EZ returns, as well as state returns.
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The IRS also maintains Free File for more complicated (but still not multistate) returns. It is administered through the Free File Alliance, a nonprofit organization of a dozen tax-prep service providers, including TurboTax, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt.
Free File projects that, in 2017, it will prepare about 3 million individual income tax returns out of the 153 million the IRS expects to receive.
"One-hundred-million people are eligible, but it's not advertised, so nobody knows about it," said Tim Hugo, the alliance's executive director.