It’s been a long time coming, but next year, for the first time, some taxpayers will have a new filing option: a free tax prep software program created by the IRS and named “Direct File.”
The roll-out will be slow. Direct File will be available only in thirteen states, including New York. Note that the IRS warns that it’s not suited for all taxpayers. You’ll need a special invitation to use Direct File in the first cohort. The IRS expects to send the invitations around mid-February.
If all goes well with the early filers, the program will slowly open up to more users. The goal is to have the program available to anyone who wants to use it in the thirteen states by the tax deadline in April 2024.
The IRS created Direct File following research reflecting potential users’ preference to use an IRS program only if it can process federal and state returns. For the first year, Direct File will be available only to taxpayers in the nine states without a state income tax, plus four states that agreed to work with the IRS to integrate Direct File with their state websites to file tax returns. New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, and California are among the states participating in the program.
The IRS says it’s open to any state willing to participate and expects more states to join if the 2024 filing season is a success.
There are limitations to be aware of. You can’t itemize deductions, which over 10% of taxpayers still do. Also, only certain tax credits and forms of income will be allowed. You won’t be eligible to use the software if you claim a credit for child-care expenses or have interest income above $1,500. And self-employment income isn’t listed as one type to be processed, which means freelancers and gig workers are not eligible.
Direct File will process three major tax credits: Earned Income Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for Other Dependents. It will also let users deduct teacher’s expenses and student loan interest. But that’s it, at least for now.
There are options if you aren’t eligible for Direct File but are searching for a way to file your taxes for free. You can complete your taxes and submit them electronically or on paper. People with an annual income below $73,000 can get free access to some commercial tax software through the Free File program. Older adults and those with an annual income below $63,000 can have volunteers prepare taxes free at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs supported by the IRS nationwide.
Because only 3% of Americans use the Free File program, even though 70 percent of Americans are eligible, it will be interesting to see how Direct File does.
We are taking a wait and see position on this. New software of any kind is subject to unexpected glitches, given the complexity of the tax laws. We recommend waiting until the completion of the first tax year of Direct File to see its success. While we’re always excited about new technology, we will wait and see.
Reference: The Washington Post (October 17, 2023) “IRS to offer a new option to file your tax return”