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How to File your Federal Income Tax Return for Free

How to File your Federal Income Tax Return for Free

Mark Kantrowitz

February 04, 2010

Many college students file federal income tax returns on their own for the first time in college. This can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. After all, the federal income tax return is simpler than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). And now, you can file your federal income tax return for free through the IRS’s Free File program.

The IRS’s Free File program is a partnership between the IRS and a group of tax software companies. There are two types of Free File programs, those offering step-by-step help and those offering free forms with e-file. Most college students will qualify for both Free File programs.

• You can prepare and e-file your federal income tax returns for free through more than a dozen companies if your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less. (Some of the participating companies have lower income limitations and other requirements, such as age and state of residence restrictions.) This program is available for some of the most common federal income tax forms, including IRS Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ, IRS Form 8863 (used to claim the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits) and IRS Form 8917 (used to claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction). Some of the Free File participants also offer state tax preparation (sometimes for a small fee). The IRS provides a wizard tool to help you choose a Free File company. Some of the more well-known Free File participants include H&R Block Free File (AGI less than or equal to $57,000, age under 51) and TurboTax Freedom Edition (AGI less than or equal to $31,000 or active military with AGI less than or equal to $57,000 or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit).

• There are also Free File fillable forms offered through the Free File Alliance. There are no income limitations for this program.

More information on the Free File program can be found on the IRS Free File web site.

There are also a few key IRS Publications of interest to college students. IRS Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax provides a good introduction to federal income tax. IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education provides detailed information on a variety of tax benefits, such as the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits and the student loan interest deduction.


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