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If you haven’t filed your 2023 tax return yet, you should probably start thinking about how you plan to do so. Residents in some states already have access to the IRS’s free Direct File program, which has been in a limited pilot testing phase, as of March 4—but more taxpayers should be able to utilize the software starting on March 12.

Unlike the existing free filing options, Direct File does not have any income limits (though at the moment it can only handle simple returns), nor does it utilize a third-party preparer.

A reminder: tax returns for most filers are due on Monday, April 15 this year (April 17 for residents of Maine and Massachusetts).

How to qualify for Direct File

Many taxpayers who live in the following 12 states are eligible to submit federal returns through the Direct File pilot:

  • Arizona

  • California

  • Florida

  • Massachusetts

  • Nevada

  • New Hampshire

  • New York

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Washington

  • Wyoming

Be sure to check the specific state-by-state qualifications, such as filing status and length of residency in your state.

There are a handful of exclusions with the Direct File program. It will only accept Form W-2, Social Security retirement, unemployment earnings, and interest of $1,500 or less, so if you earned income as a gig worker or are self-employed, you won’t be able to use the software. You also cannot itemize deductions—you must take the standard deduction—other than student loan interest and educator expenses. Only the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, and dependent tax credit can be claimed.

In addition, Direct File only does federal returns, so you’ll have to do your state return separately. If you live in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, or New York, the software will direct you to a program for your state.

Alternatives to file your taxes for free

If you don’t qualify for the Direct File pilot, you can still take advantage of the IRS’s existing free filing options. IRS Free File, which guides you through your return via a third-party partner, is available to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income was $79,000 or less in 2023.

Those who made more than $73,000 can use the self-guided Free File Fillable Forms or software from a tax preparation company like TurboTax, H&R Block, or Cash App Taxes (watch out for any add-on fees). Finally, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program does free tax prep for those who earn $60,000 or less, are disabled, or for whom English is a second language.

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