TOP 3 FREE Tax Filing Options: VITA vs. IRS Free File vs. AARP

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Filing your taxes shouldn't be difficult, and unless it's complicated, it shouldn't be too expensive either. If you think tax filing is a hassle and expensive, I've got some good news for you. There are some free and user-friendly options that can make this process much smoother. However, there are restrictions and limitations on who can actually use these free tax filing services.

In this blog post, I'll explore my Top Three Free Tax Filing Options, which are: VITA, AARP and the IRS's Free File Program.

But before we dive in, in case you don't know me, I'm Noel Lorenzana. I'm a CPA, and what can I say? I love free stuff! Seriously, who wouldn't want to get their tax files for free?

Now, I know what you might be thinking...

Turbotax used to advertise this heavily about their free tax filing offer, but they were sued by the FTC for false claims and ordered not to use free unless it was something that was actually free for all consumers.

I made a video on that, which you can watch here.

With that being said, let's explore these Real Free Tax Filing Options. I'll go over who qualifies, what's offered, and the Pros and Cons.

First up, we have VITA.

1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

What is VITA? VITA Offers free basic tax return preparation to qualifying individuals. The VITA program has been around for over 50 years, and it offers free tax help to people who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.

Who is eligible for VITA?

To qualify for this program, you must:

  • Earn moderate income or less; or
  • Be disabled; or
  • Not speak English well; or
  • Be a senior citizen

What Are The Pros of VITA?

  • IRS-Approved Volunteers. The volunteers who provide tax help are trained and certified by the IRS which ensures a competence level of service.
  • Convenience. VITA sites are often located in community centres, libraries, schools, and other easily accessible locations, making it very convenient for eligible taxpayers.
  • Electronic Filing. VITA does offer electronic filing or e-filing, which can lead to faster tax refunds compared to paper filing.
  • Support for various Tax Credits. Their volunteers are knowledgeable about various tax credits, such as the earned income tax credit, and child tax credit, that can be very beneficial to taxpayers.
  • Bilingual Support. Many VITA sites offer services in multiple languages, which accommodates a broader range of taxpayers.

What Are The Cons of VITA?

  • Income Limitations. Vita services are primarily for people who earn $64,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English-speaking taxpayers, which excludes higher-income individuals.
  • Complex Tax Situations Not Covered. So VITA might not be suitable for the more complex tax situations, such as for small business owners with employees, rental properties, or extensive investment activity. So maybe if you bought an electric vehicle with a home charger, they may or may not cover that. 
  • Limited Availability. VITA services are generally available only during the tax season, and the hours of availability might be limited, which can be inconvenient for some. And if you need to reach them after tax season, you probably won't be able to connect with anybody.
  • Potential for Long Waits. Depending on the location, there can be long wait times to receive help, especially as the tax deadline approaches.
  • Privacy Concerns. Some people may not be comfortable discussing their financial situation in a public setting like at a VITA site.
  • Dependency on Volunteer Availability. So the quality of service might vary depending on who's available and the expertise of the volunteers.

If you qualify for VITA, it can be a great resource. I know a lot of legitimate tax professionals who volunteer or who have volunteered for VITA.

How to apply for VITA?

No application is needed to use this service. For information on volunteering or the locations of the tax assistance sites, visit the Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers page or call 1-800-906-9887.

So this could be really handy for you. You can Find out if you qualify, see if there's a location near you, and try to get an appointment.

2. IRS Free File Program

What is the IRS Free File? The IRS Free File lets qualified taxpayers prepare and file federal income tax returns online using guided tax preparation software. It's safe, easy, and no cost to you. Those who don't qualify can still use free file fillable forms.

So the IRS Free File program gives you two options:
1. Guided Tax Software.
2. Fillable Forms.

What Are The Pros of the IRS's Free File (Guided Tax Software)?

  • No Cost for Eligible Taxpayers. So it's free for individuals whose income falls below a certain threshold, which can change year to year, making it an affordable option for many taxpayers. And for the current year, that's $79,000 of adjusted gross income or less to qualify for this.
  • Ease of Use. The software guides taxpayers through the tax filing process with a step-by-step approach, which is kind of like TurboTax or Tax Act, if you've used those in the past. This can be very helpful for those who aren't familiar with tax laws and the tax forms.
  • Accuracy. The software includes built-in calculators and checks for common errors, which reduces the chance of making mistakes.
  • Direct Deposit for Refunds. This is convenient because it allows for faster refunds.
  • Variety of Software Choices. There are 8 IRS Free File Online tax preparation service options for you to explore. You can Browse All the Trusted IRS Partners here.

What Are The Cons of the IRS's Free File (Guided Tax Software)?

  • Income Restrictions. So they're only available for free to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income below Certain Levels.
  • Limited Features in Free Versions. So some software might limit features or forms in the free version. So later it might require you to pay for something, especially if you have a complex tax situation or if you need your state tax return filed. So keep that in mind.
  • May Not Include State Filing. So check the details before you dive in and use them as your free tax filing program.
  • Varies by Provider. The experience and offerings can vary significantly from one provider to another. If you use one, you might want to keep using that year after year after year. It just becomes easier that way.

What are IRS Free File Fillable Forms? These are electronic federal tax forms. They're equivalent to a paper 1040 form. With this, you should know how to prepare your tax return. You should have some familiarity with using the form. You should understand basic instructions and the IRS publications if needed.

What Are The Pros of the IRS's Free File (Fillable Forms)? 

  • No Income Limit. It's available to all taxpayers regardless of your income level.
  • Flexibility. It offers more control to those who are familiar with tax forms and prefer to fill out the forms themselves directly.
  • Electronic Filing. It does allow for e-filing, which can result in faster processing and faster refunds compared to paper filing.

What Are The Cons of the IRS's Free File (Fillable Forms)?

  • No Guidance Provided. So if you have a question, you're pretty much on your own. So it's not ideal for those who aren't familiar with basic tax laws or have complex tax situations.
  • No State Tax Filing. So Free File Fillable Forms does not include state tax filing, which means taxpayers have to find other means to file their state tax returns.
  • Error-Prone. Since there's no software to check the entries or check the math, you have to do that yourself. So it's easier to make mistakes that could lead to errors, processing delays, and maybe even audits.
  • Requires More Tax Knowledge. So it's best suited for those who already have a good understanding of their tax situation, their tax obligations, and the forms they need to file their taxes.

With that being said, it's not a bad option if you already know how to fill out the forms and your situation isn't too complex. Finally, let's take a look at AARP.


What is the AARP? The AARP Foundation Tax Aid Program is a service primarily aimed at helping senior citizens, although it's not just limited to them. And just so you know, AARP defines seniors as over 50, which isn't very old, if you ask me.

The foundation provides tax assistance to anyone free of charge with a special focus on taxpayers who are over 50 or have low to moderate income.

Tax aid volunteers are located nationwide and are trained and IRS-certified every year to make sure they know about and understand the latest changes and additions to the tax code.

So there are two options here:
1. Have Somebody Prepare Your Taxes
2. Prepare Your Own Taxes Online

So one challenge with AARP is the limited availability and actually getting appointment. So if you can get an appointment and you qualify and your tax situation is straightforward, it is a great option.

Let's proceed with the Pros and Cons.

What Are The Pros of the AARP Free Tax Prep Assistance?

  • Volunteer Expertise. The volunteers are trained and IRS-certified, with many having specific expertise and issues that affect seniors, such as maybe pension, social security, and retirement-related questions.
  • Accessibility for Older Adults. The program is tailored to the needs of people Over 50, making it more accessible and relevant to older taxpayers.
  • Wide Availability. It's available nationwide. They have a broad network of locations. They're usually held at libraries, community centers, and other convenient public meeting places.
  • Electronic Filing. They do offer electronic filing, which is always better than paper filing, in my opinion.
  • Personalized Assistance. You are meeting with a person face-to-face typically which can be beneficial for those who prefer the in-person, face-to-face meetings.

    But I know a lot of them, especially ones that are local to me, are using a drop-off method. Basically, you have a short meeting with a Tax Professional, and you drop off your documents. So they're not preparing your Taxes while you wait like they did in the past.

What Are The Cons of AARP's Free Tax Prep Assistance?

  • Targeted Primarily at Older Taxpayers. It doesn't necessarily say it excludes younger people. So I don't know if you can really get the service if you're under 50. They don't exclude you definitively.
  • Complex Tax Situations May Not be Covered. So AARP may not handle very complex tax situations such as maybe business income, extensive investments, maybe electric vehicle purchasing and home charging setups, and maybe cryptocurrencies. So just know that.
  • Limited Service Period. So their service is primarily available for a short time during tax season. And even when it is available, the times that they offer is maybe once a week or maybe four hours. I've never done this, but I would imagine that there would be long wait times. So you want to make sure you make an appointment before you go out.
  • Potential Wait Times. Yes, depending on the location and demand, there probably are going to be wait times.
  • Privacy Concerns. As with any in-person service and with any random person preparing your tax return, you may not see them again, so you don't know what they're going to do with your tax information. And discussing your financial situation in a public setting can be concerning to some.
  • Variable Experience Based on Location and Volunteers. The level of service can vary depending on the volunteer's expertise and the specific location where you're at. So like they say, your mileage may vary.

So that wraps up our dive into some of the free tax filing options out there. We've looked at the IRS's VITA Program, The IRS's Free File options, and AARP's Tax Aid Service.

It's a bit of a mixed bag, right?

While they're super helpful for a lot of folks, especially if your tax situation is on the straightforward side, they're not a one-size-fits-all solution.

If you're dealing with something more complex or if your income level is above a certain amount, you might need to look elsewhere.

But for those who fit the bill, these services can be a real lifesaver especially if you're on a fixed income. I mean, who doesn't love getting a bit of expert help without having to open up their wallet?

So if you're getting ready to tackle your taxes and wondering if one of these options could work for you, definitely give them a look.

That's about it. Thanks for reading and see you in my next blog post!


About The Author

Noel Lorenzana is an Illinois-licensed, Registered Certified Public Accountant with over 20 plus years of experience.

Through his online educational content, YouTube videos, easy-to-understand courses and 1-on-1 consulting, he gives you the tools to become tax savvy for yourself. 

Disclaimer: Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this article, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.