Free Online Tax Filing with IRS Free File - Ongoing Updates

We switched from Turbo Tax to TaxACT with the 2014 Filing and onto IRS Free File Option with TaxACT with the 2015 filing. Based primarily on Adjusted Gross Income limits, many online tax providers offer IRS Free File option. Although the IRS published AGI limit is $64K, there are vendor specific limits that are often lower - for example, the TaxACT AGI limit for Free File 2016 was $52K. One other thing to keep in mind is that if you are willing to use fillable forms, you can opt to IRS Free File even when you do not meet the AGI cut-off.

Note: consider also what is available at the Amazon.com Tax Preparation Software area. The options there are suitable in case you prefer client software as opposed to online interface.


2016 Taxes - TaxACT Free File Update

Since our AGI for 2016 was well below the TaxACT Free File cut-off of $52K, we had no problems using TAXACT Free File. Since we had an existing TaxACT account that used the Free File option in 2015, the process went really smooth - it allowed using our previous user name and also allowed importing the details of last year’s return without a glitch.

Below are some things we noticed:
  1. Verification Code and “Don’t ask again on this computer” checkbox - asked each time when logging in just like last year. This problem is not unique to TaxACT. Many sites rely on a static IP address to identify your machine - if your ISP contract does not provide for static IP, then you will encounter this.
  2. In several screens, especially fast manual input forms, when using Joint Filing, it is not clear from the screen which one of the joint filers the form applies to. Basically, you will need to go back and verify this which is cumbersome.
  3. Some of the screens (example Stock Assistant) will adjust automatically without having to use scroll-bars when screen size is varied. This is especially useful when having the TaxACT input-form and the corresponding IRS form side-by-side to enter info without errors.
  4. Access to Stock Assistant screen was not obvious from certain points: direct entry into 1099 or Step-by-Step are sometimes the only accessible options. The Stock Assistant selection was just not there.  “Jump To” link under Help provides a way out as the Stock Assistant can be launched from there.
  5. The 1099-MISC form entry was not obvious when coming in thru the “Business Income” interface. Eventually, I got the 1099-MISC entry screen by clicking thru from another screen - cumbersome.
  6. TaxACT provides an option to generate a FAFSA Summary Report. This can be helpful later on when filing the mandatory FAFSA form during college applications.
  7. Most screen entry fields have a button by the side to add more info. This can be confusing especially for date fields as you would expect the button to display a calendar to select a date.
  8. While eFiling, it asks for Driver’s License ID of the filers and then say it is not mandatory - our licenses are expired and so we skipped it and it still worked.
  9. EFile status can be checked over the Web. You will be asked to provide the primary SSN of the return, along with zip code and last name - http://efstatus.taxact.com . Other options are that they sent an email and also mobile SMS (US carriers only).  The “Accepted” notification from TaxACT came almost immediately after the submission notification although they say the average is around 2 hours.  For some reason, the status check options all behave differently - the efstatus.taxact.com screen said status as not available even though the email notification had already come. Also, under My Return, checking the status showed it was accepted.
  10. There is now a 20% discount to filers + $20 Amazon gift card referral bonus offer screen after you have eFiled.

2015 Taxes - TaxACT Free File Update

TaxACT had become more expensive in 2015. Basically, they also went the route of charging more depending on the tax forms. Checked out TurboTax and others and most are a lot more expensive than TaxACT. Finally, decided to check-out the IRS Free File option. Our AGI was well below $62K in 2015 and so they offer a number of Free File options. Chose TaxACT, but using our 2014 TaxACT  username did not work as the interface did not allow "Free File" using an existing user name.  So, created a new account from the Free File link and that worked. Also, the interface allowed importing from our 2014 TaxACT account.

Some things to note compared to 2014:

  1. Username can no longer be the email address. Also, passwords are required to be more stringent (8+ characters, at-least one capital, one number, and one special character, etc.).
  2. One time, it asked to Sign Out as the servers are shutting down for maintenance - really annoying.  Trying to sign in again caused “our system is temporarily unavailable for maintenance on our servers” message.  It did not provide an ETA either - just said to try again later. Thankfully, the system was back online a few hours later.
  3. Tax Act supposedly increased security by asking for a Verification Code with “Don’t ask again on this computer” checkbox each time you login from a different computer. But, for us, even after checking the check box, it asked for the Verification Code repeatedly. Apparently, the interface uses the IP address to determine whether it is a different computer and our ISP plan does not guarantee static IP address and hence the problem.
  4. Going back to make corrections is cumbersome: a) had to browse through several pages to update certain columns in 1099-MISC forms, and b) For Health Insurance Coverage, had inputted that we qualify for exemption as we reside outside US. But during renewal, had to go through that again as the ‘Continue’ button was not enabled. 
  5. The Print and eFiling interfaces have become more intuitive this year. 

Related Posts:

  1. Free Online Tax Filing with IRS Free File - Ongoing Updates (this post)
  2. Turbo Tax to TaxACT switching experience - 2014 Tax Filing
  3. 2013 Tax Filing - TurboTax Usage Experience
  4. Turbo Tax Online Price Increase Over The Years - A Comparison.
  5. Online Tax Filing – TaxAct, TaxCut, Turbo Tax – User Experience Review.

Last Updated: 04/2017.

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