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Yes, you can file a basic federal tax return for free

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has extended the deadline to file your federal income tax return to May 17.
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Stimulus economic tax return check and and 1040 Form.

The deadline to file your federal tax return is Monday, May 17, in most states. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said in March that they decided to push back the usual April 15 filing day to help taxpayers who may be experiencing financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recently, on May 12, a tweet went viral claiming that “the tax preparation industry is a scam” and it’s easier to file tax returns in other countries than it is in the United States. 

THE QUESTION

Can you file a basic federal tax return for free in the U.S.? 

THE SOURCES

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Rebecca Thompson: Director, Field Engagement & Taxpayer Opportunity Network, at Prosperity Now

THE ANSWER

This is true.

 Yes, you can file a basic federal tax return for free in the U.S. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Rebecca Thompson, the director of Field Engagement & Taxpayer Opportunity Network at Prosperity Now, weighed in on why it seems like the United States does not have an efficient way for taxpayers to file their federal income tax returns for free.

“Our tax system is complex, in part because many of the benefits that are delivered through the tax code (like the EITC and CTC) are dependent on household composition as well as income. The federal government (IRS) has no means of knowing who lives in our individual households, and therefore no basis on which to administer tax credits without the information reported on our tax returns,” she told VERIFY via email.  

Thompson says the IRS does, however, offer information about free tax preparation options online, “like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and IRS Free File throughout the filing season through various channels including news releases and social media.”

On its website, the IRS breaks down what the IRS Free File Program is and how it helps taxpayers prepare and file their federal income tax for free online through a partnership with the Free File Alliance, which debuted in 2003. 

“The IRS Free File Program is a public-private partnership between the IRS and many tax preparation and filing software industry leaders who provide their brand-name products for free,” the agency says. 

When asked about the “tax preparation industry is a scam” claim, Thompson said, “Like any other industry, the tax preparation industry does include ‘bad actors.’”

She offered a resource from the IRS to help taxpayers avoid scams during the pandemic: “IRS unveils "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams for 2020; Americans urged to be vigilant to these threats during the pandemic and its aftermath.” 

Thompson also provided a list of other free tax preparation options prior to Monday’s deadline: 

  • GetYourRefund.org, developed by Code for America, provides a fully virtual tax prep option – backed by IRS-certified VITA volunteers
  • GetYourRefund.org also offers a do-it-yourself option – with a chat function supported by VITA volunteers
  • MyFreeTaxes.com is another do-it-yourself option, with phone support provided by United Way 211 call assistors who have completed the IRS VITA training and certification. MyFreeTaxes is provided by United Way.
  • There are still some VITA sites open with limited options for in-person services and drop-off – check your local listings or visit Get Free Tax Prep Help (treasury.gov)

Due to severe storms and other natural disasters in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, the tax deadline in those states has been extended to June 15, according to the IRS

In Kentucky, the IRS has extended the federal filing deadline to June 30 due to severe storms and flooding that began in late February. 

Meanwhile, victims of severe storms in parts of Alabama and Tennessee will have until Aug. 2 to file their federal taxes following a recent disaster declaration issued by FEMA.

Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect the tax deadline extensions in states impacted by natural disasters in 2021.

More from VERIFY: Yes, the 16th Amendment was properly ratified, so file your tax return

VERIFY
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