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If you plan on filing your own taxes this year, you may qualify for a simple tax return. You can file a simple tax return for free using one of the many tax filing programs we recommend. But if it’s the first time you’re filing taxes or you’ve previously hired an accountant to take care of your tax return, you may not know if you can file a simple return.
To help you figure out where your tax situation stands, Select looks at who qualifies for a simple tax return and where you can file your taxes for free.
A simple tax return is the most basic type of tax return you can file. Each tax filing program defines simple tax returns differently, but they generally include:
- W-2 income
- Limited interest and dividend income
- Standard deductions
- Unemployment income
Many online tax filing programs also include:
- Earned income tax credit
- Child tax credits
- Student loan/education deductions
If your taxes are a bit more complicated, you’ll need to file a complex tax return. Most tax software programs will charge you fees to file complex returns. Here are some scenarios where you won’t qualify for a simple tax return:
- You’re self-employed or a freelancer (1099 tax forms)
- You’re a small business owner
- You earn rental income
- You have earnings from investments, like bonds and stocks
When you're going through the tax filing process using an online service, you'll receive notice if you can’t file a free simple tax return and instead need to upgrade and pay for a more complex return.
All of Select’s best tax software programs offer the opportunity to file a simple tax return for free. The only exception is TaxAct, which charges $39.95 to $54.95 per state return; filing a simple federal tax return is free.
Here are your options:
- Best overall tax software: TurboTax
- Runner-up: H&R Block
- Best free tax software: Credit Karma Tax
- Best affordable tax software: TaxSlayer
- Best for accuracy guarantee: TaxAct
If you need to file a more complex tax return, all of the tax filing programs provide deluxe, premium and self-employed plans, except for Credit Karma Tax.
To determine which tax software offers the best way to file your taxes online, Select analyzed 12 programs. We compared each program on a range of features, including:
- User experience
- Expert tax assistance
- Accuracy and maximum refund guarantee
- Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating
- Customer reviews, when available
Cost was one of the most important factors. While many of these services offer free versions, many people have complicated finances that require them to pay to file their taxes. We evaluated the price per plan and weighed the features you receive, like the ability to maximize deductions and credits. The more bang for your buck, the higher a service ranked.
Whether you’re new to filing taxes or a seasoned pro, user experience is crucial to filling out and submitting your return quickly and with little frustration. The services we chose had to be relatively user friendly.
The ability to speak with a tax expert or support representative was a big plus. Four out of five of the best tax software offered some form of support.
And if a service supported consumers with a generous accuracy and maximum refund guarantee, it was ranked higher.
We also considered the Better Business Bureau rating associated with the software. BBB ratings help determine whether a business is operating responsibly and if it helps to resolve customer complaints in a timely manner. Customer reviews were also taken into consideration.
After reviewing the above features, we sorted our recommendations by best for overall tax filing, runner-up, free tax software, most affordable and best accuracy guarantee.
The federal and state filing fees for the software programs mentioned above are subject to change without notice. Many programs don’t charge you until you file, so there’s a chance the fees can change from the time you start your return until you submit it.