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Online tax filing: The best last-minute options for hopeless procrastinators

Michael Ansaldo | April 6, 2015
Tax day is a procrastinator's dream. The two-and-a-half months from when you receive your W-2 or 1099 to when you have to file seems like an eternity. But now it's hit you with the urgency of a house on fire.

Tax day is a procrastinator's dream. The two-and-a-half months from when you receive your W-2 or 1099 to when you have to file seems like an eternity. But now it's hit you with the urgency of a house on fire.

Take a breath — the solution is right in your web browser. Dozens of online tax sites are waiting for your last-minute business. Some offer little more than electronic versions of the IRS's paper forms, while others walk you step-by-step through the filing process. We've picked the best and put together a guide to making your eleventh-hour filing as painless as possible.

See if you can file for free

Before you do anything, find out if you're eligible to file your taxes for free. Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less can take advantage of the IRS's FreeFile program, which makes tax-preparation software from 14 different vendors available for no charge. Each participating vendor has its own eligibility requirements related to income, age, state residency, military service and eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The site offers a wizard-style questionnaire to help you find the best software for your tax situation so you don't have to manually comb through each program's requirements. Remember Free File only covers your federal return. Each site charges extra for state returns, and prices vary by vendor.

Even if you don't qualify for FreeFile, you can use FreeFile Fillable Forms. Accessible from the FreeFile page, these are basically electronic versions of the IRS' hard copies that you can fill in and file online. Because these don't provide the question-and-answer prompts that most tax programs do, they're best suited for people who have experience filing paper tax returns. Fillable Forms do not support state returns.

You may also be able to file for free with a commercial vendor if your tax situation is relatively straightforward. TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct each have free options for filing simple 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. State returns cost extra — $20 for TaxAct and $30 for TurboTax and H&R Block. These options offer automatic import of your W-2, accuracy reviews, and answers to common tax questions.

The best of the pay vendors

If you don't qualify for one of the above options, your best bet is to avail yourself of one of the Big Three paid services: Turbo Tax, H&R Block, and TaxAct. There are less-expensive services than the first two, but they offer little more than what you can get gratis from FreeFile Fillable Forms, and they can't match the features and polish of the leading packages.

All three vendors offer multiple tiers of their products, with prices increasing with the complexity of your tax situation. If you've used one of these vendors before, it's simplest to stick with them because you'll be able to import data from last year's return.

 

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