Tax Time Guide: How to do taxes for free and get refunds fast

Notice: Historical Content

This is an archival or historical document and may not reflect current law, policies or procedures.

IR-2021-44, February 23, 2021

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WASHINGTON — During this tax season when many people are trying to stay safe at home, the Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers about ways to do their taxes for free online or with help from volunteers.

Free File is easy, fast, safe and secure

Taxpayers who want to prepare and file their tax returns electronically can use IRS Free File. IRS Free File offers brand-name tax software for taxpayers with an income of $72,000 or less in 2020. Taxpayers who earned more can use Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. Taxpayers can get started at IRS Free File also lets taxpayers get an automatic extension of time to file if they need it.

Free File is also a way to get a refund fast. Filing electronically and using direct deposit is the fastest and most accurate way to file and get a refund. The IRS issues nine out of 10 refunds in 21 days or less. Taxpayers filing on paper can also choose direct deposit, but paper returns take longer to process.

Free File and e-file also help taxpayers who owe. When filing electronically, taxpayers can pay with electronic funds withdrawal for free. Another option is to pay with their bank account using Direct Pay. In addition to paying online, taxpayers who owe taxes can pay using the IRS2Go mobile app on a smartphone or other mobile device. Information about all payment options is available at

Free options for the military and some veterans

MilTax, Military OneSource's tax service, provides online software for eligible individuals to electronically file a federal return and up to three state returns for free.

Military OneSource is a program funded by the Department of Defense that provides a range of free resources for military members, veterans and their families.

More information about OneSource is available at

Get free tax help from volunteers in the community

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to individuals who generally make $57,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and individuals with limited English proficiency who need assistance in preparing their taxes. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program also offers free tax help to taxpayers, particularly those age 60 and older.

For over 50 years, volunteers have prepared tax returns in communities across the country. Each filing season, tens of thousands of dedicated VITA/TCE volunteers prepare millions of federal and state returns. Last year, for example, over 70,000 volunteers prepared over 2.5 million federal tax returns.

And this tax season, due to the ongoing pandemic, some volunteer sites will offer virtual help to taxpayers in place of face-to-face assistance. This allows volunteers to help taxpayers over the phone or online to complete their returns. While virtual tax prep will be an option this tax season, some VITA/TCE sites will still offer in-person free tax help. However, safety and social distancing will be emphasized.

IRS-certified VITA and TCE volunteers are trained to help taxpayers claim the tax credits they are entitled to such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit and Credit for Other Dependents.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a significant tax credit for workers who earned $56,844 or less in 2020. The IRS estimates four out of five eligible taxpayers claim and get the EITC. Nationwide in 2020, around 25 million taxpayers received over $62 billion in EITC. The average EITC amount received was $2,461 per return. The EITC is worth as much as $6,660 for a family with three or more children or up to $538 for taxpayers who do not have a qualifying child.

New this tax season, taxpayers can use their 2019 earned income to figure their 2020 EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit if their 2019 earned income was more than their 2020 earned income. To qualify for EITC, people must have earned income, so this option may help workers who earned less in 2020, or received unemployment income instead of their regular wages, get bigger tax credits and larger refunds in the coming year.

Also, any Economic Impact Payments received are not taxable or counted as income for purposes of claiming the EITC. Eligible individuals who did not receive the full amounts of both Economic Impact Payments may claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2020 tax return. See for more information.

The VITA and TCE programs can help answer many EITC questions and help taxpayers claim the credit if they qualify. Taxpayers may also use the EITC Assistant to help them determine their eligibility.

To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, taxpayers can use the VITA and TCE locator tool available on, download the IRS mobile app IRS2Go, or call 800-906-9887. Help in other languages – Chinese, Cantonese, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese – is also available at select locations across the country. The locator tool indicates where these services are offered. Please note that some VITA/TCE sites are not operating at full capacity this year and others are not opening. But the locator tool is updated throughout the tax season, so taxpayers can check back if they don't see a nearby site listed.

Get more help

Taxpayers can find answers to questions, forms and instructions and easy-to-use tools online at No appointment required and no waiting on hold.

This is part of a series called the Tax Time Guide, focused on helping people file a federal tax return accurately and efficiently. Additional help is available in Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.