How to File a Tax Return

You have three choices when it comes to filing your taxes:

  1. You can file manually by completing Form 1040 according to instructions provided by the IRS. Mail the form to the IRS, along with any payment you owe.
  2. You can use a tax software program or the website of a service like TurboTax or H&R Block. They’ll walk you through a series of questions about your income and potential deductions, fill out your 1040 based on your responses, and file it electronically for you.
  3. You can get professional help from an accountant or tax professional who will work with you to maximize your refund and fill out your tax return on your behalf.

The first option is free. If you go with the second option, you’ll likely have to pay a fee, although some programs offer free filing if your return is simple enough. The third option—professional help—will almost certainly cost you money.

The Free File partnership between the IRS and select tax preparation companies offers free tax preparation and efiling to taxpayers who earn $69,000 or less as of 2020. You can also download tax forms here as well and complete them yourself if your income is more than $69,000 so you don’t qualify for free preparation.2

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