Direct File: 4 States Offer Online Tax Return Filing
Free State Tax Filing in California and Other States
A handful of states, including California, offer their own tax software programs on their websites that allow taxpayers to complete their returns and file them free of charge. Other options also exist for free—or almost free—preparation and filing.
California has two online tax preparation tools, CalFile and ReadyReturn. ReadyReturn is a program that uses your W-2s and prior year's tax returns to create a prefilled California return. This program is for taxpayers who have wages from only one employer and are filing as single or head of household. CalFile is not prefilled. For 2015 returns, CalFile is open to taxpayers of all filing statuses with federal adjusted gross incomes of up to $178,706 if you're single or married and filing a separate return.
The limit increases to $268,063 for those filing as head of household, and $357,417 if you're married and filing a joint return. You must have lived in California the entire year, and you can claim no more than 10 dependents.
Maine offers FastFile and 1040 I-File, a tax preparation and e-file program for taxpayers with relatively simple returns. Enter your information, and the program will calculate your return. If you owe, you can pay electronically or request to delay your payment. If you're entitled to a refund, you'll receive it by direct deposit.
Pennsylvania offers padirectfile, but your return must be pretty basic to use it. You're not eligible if you're intending to claim a resident tax credit or if your income derives from farming.
Although they're not run by individual states, two websites also offer free state returns if you meet certain lower income requirements. United Way offers MyFreeTaxes.com for state returns, as does OnLine Taxes.
Other Filing Options
Many tax preparation software packages include free state returns. You may have to pay to prepare your federal return, but your state return is often included at no extra charge. Additionally, some of these programs are free for basic, uncomplicated returns for taxpayers with federal adjusted gross incomes of $62,000 a year or less as of the 2015 tax year.
E-file offers state tax return preparation and filing starting at $19.95 in 2018, but you can prepare as many returns as necessary. Due to recent tax law changes, you can only e-file a return through this site if you also e-file a federal return, but you're free to print out your completed return or returns and mail them in.
More and more states are jumping on the technology bandwagon daily. It's cheaper for them, cutting administrative costs, and it's easier for you. Check directly with your state's Department of Revenue website for additional information. You might be pleasantly surprised.