Want to file your taxes for free? You can… but you’ll want to make sure you don’t end up paying to “free-file.”

There are a lot of free tax prep programs available…and there are many that start out as free but then hit you with fees when it’s time to file. Here we’ll take a look at which options are really free, and whether they make sense for you.

If Your Income Is $72,000 or Less 

If your income is $72,000 or less, the easiest place to find legit 100% free tax filing software is the IRS website’s Free File section. From there you’ll be directed to completely free and easy to use tax software so you can prepare and file your federal income tax return. Plus, in some cases, you’ll also be able to file your state income tax return as part of the deal.

A bunch of tax software companies offer this service through the IRS Free File site, and you have to choose which one to use. The IRS has a simple online tool that will help you pick the best free filing software for your situation, so you don’t have to guess.

If Your Income Exceeds $72,000

For those of you who make more than $72,000, the options here are more limited, but still free. The IRS offers free filing of federal-only “fillable” forms. Basically, they give you full access to all the necessary tax forms, but you have to know which forms you need, what goes on each form, and how to fill it in yourself (online).

What this option works well for:

  • E-filing a free extension of time to file your taxes
  • Filing simple “no schedule” tax returns, where you have only W2 income and take the standard deduction

Your Non-IRS Tax Software Options

If you’re not crazy about the idea of going through the IRS websites, many of the major tax prep software companies offer a free “starter” versions of their programs. These are supposed to let you e-file basic federal tax returns for free. Some may also let you file a free state tax return.

Or at least it will look that way at first… so pay attention.

They may let you start a free 1040, but then tack on charges if your return includes extra schedules. That happens when, for example, you have your own business, want to itemize deductions, or sold some investments.

You can check out this NerdWallet review of 4 top tax software options, all of which offer at least some version of free file.