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How the IRS E-file Process Works

        Money | Taxes

What Is Free File?

The IRS Free File program was formed from a 2001 task force to improve government-to-citizen capabilities [source: IRS]. Free File offers free, secure online tax preparation and filing to eligible taxpayers. The IRS itself doesn't give you the tax software. Rather, they partner with private companies who have a proven track record of providing consistent and secure tax services. The companies that partner with Free File, unlike some other companies offering free tax filing software, are guaranteed to have the most up-to-date programs as well as easy access to IRS.gov. The IRS does not endorse any particular Free File company.

Taxpayers must have an adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less to quality for Free File software -- which covers about 70 percent of Americans [source: Free File Alliance]. If your income exceeds $58,000, you can still e-file for free online using Free File, but you must fill out the forms yourself. These forms do the math, but do not guide you through the tax preparation process.

You may also be able to file your state income taxes using Free File if that particular software offers the ability to do so. The IRS website lets you choose your e-file software here or, if you're not sure which software you want to use, provides an online wizard to help you choose.

To save yourself some time, here's a checklist of everything you should have ready when you sit down to e-file your taxes.

  • Computer connected to the Iinternet
  • Valid email address for the software company to notify you about your tax return
  • Last year's adjusted gross income or an IRS electronic filing pin (find out how to get yours at the IRS website)
  • Social Security numbers for you and your dependents
  • W-2 forms from all of your employers
  • Any 1099-INT forms showing interest paid from the past year
  • Any 1099-G forms showing refunds, credits or offsets of state and local taxes
  • Receipts for your small business, if eligible
  • Receipts and/or paperwork from any additional income
  • Unemployment compensation, if applicable
  • Social Security benefits, if applicable

And, if you don't feel comfortable (or just don't want to) doing this yourself, you can always give your information to a tax professional who can e-file on your behalf.