How to File Your Own Taxes

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Contributor, Benzinga
October 12, 2020

As a U.S. taxpayer, you typically have 2 options if you’re not working with a CPA to file federal taxes:

  1. You can file your taxes through an independent tax software program, app or online forum.
  2. You can file your taxes by hand and mail them to your local IRS collection address.

You’ll need to decide how you’d like to file well before Tax Day rolls around in April. You want to make sure that you’ve got plenty of time to file.

Review the differences, benefits and processes associated with both filing methods, and get ready to file your own taxes.

The Best Online Tax Software This Year

We've reviewed 4 of the top online tax software providers, so you can compare your options to file your own taxes.

Filing by Hand vs. Using Online Software


If you choose to file your taxes by hand, you’ll download and fill out relevant IRS forms and mail them to your local collection address. Tax forms are available for free at, and you may need to fill out more than 1 depending on your deductibles, employment situation, and marital filing status.

To make a payment, you may mail a check to the IRS directly or you use a debit card, credit card or same-day wire transfer by using the IRS online payment system.

Filing your taxes by hand may take a little longer, but it can be a good option if you have a simple return. If you aren’t interested in learning more about the tax process or have a complicated return, tax prep software can help guide your way.

This is especially true if you own rental properties or make regular income through the stock market with investment taxes. Tax prep software can also walk you through the process if you're a business owner who needs to calculate capital gains taxes. Software can navigate the myriad of tax laws, deductibles and exemptions you need to detail.

Method 1: File By Mail

Though you may shudder at the thought of calculating your taxes by hand, there are a number of benefits of doing things the old-fashioned way:

  • You learn more about where your money is going. Tax software programs are designed if you want your taxes to be finished as soon as possible and with as little intrusion as humanly possible. Tax preparation software programs don’t do a great job of explaining the tax process, where your money is going after you pay it or the laws surrounding tax preparation. If you’re an inquisitive person, doing your taxes by hand gives you an inside look at how you’re taxed and where your tax money goes.
  • You’ll fight against tax complexity. The United States has 1 of the longest and most arduous tax processes in the world. Some critics blame tax software companies for their lobbying efforts against a simpler tax code, that were it not for software manufacturers’ interference, the public would have adopted a less complicated tax process ages ago. A growing body of consumers choose to do their taxes by hand to discourage complex tax laws and encourage government representatives to simplify the tax code.
  • You save money on software. Filing your taxes by hand is basically free, saves the cost of postage, ink for your printer and mailing supplies.

If you’ll be filing your taxes by hand this year, your 1st stop should be to, where you can download the necessary forms to begin your return. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll need to fill out the Form 1040, which is suitable for most who are employed either full-time or part-time. To view a step-by-step guide to filling out Form 1040, check out the video tutorial below:

Method 2: File Using a Tax Program

Most Americans who do their own taxes choose to use tax preparation software. Some of the benefits of choosing a tax software program include:

  • You’re less likely to make a mistake. Mistakes on your tax return can be costly — from audits to additional fees to missed deductibles and credits. Carelessness can cost you when filing your taxes. Tax software programs make it less likely that you’ll make an expensive error on your return.
  • You’ll save time. The tax code of the United States is over 70,000 pages long and has sextupled in length since 1955. Though most of this tax code does not apply to the individual filing taxes, it can still take a long time to sift through over 10 million words’ worth of tax laws to find relevant materials. Tax software distills the overly-complicated tax code to guide users with a simple Q&A style format that finds deductions and fills out all necessary forms.
  • You may be able to file with a free federal version. If cost is high on your list of concerns, know that most major tax software manufacturers offer a free edition to help users fill out federal income tax files.

If you’ll be using a tax software program to help you file your returns, you’ll need to choose a provider first. From industry standards like Intuit TurboTax to save-as-you-go programs like TaxAct, there are a number of software options and packages currently available on the market to suit every individual’s needs.

For more information on the best tax software programs, check out Benzinga’s list of current favorites and offerings.

The Best Tax Software Programs

Take advantage of the simple process tax software offers you. Compare the services of our top tax software providers to find the right fit for you.

1. TurboTax

TurboTax is the big name in tax prep, and it offers a numbers of ways to help you get your taxes done. Use its online software to file yourself or opt for TurboTax Live to have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) help you.

You can also choose a CD or downloadable version of the TurboTax software. The TurboTax site can walk you through your choice by drilling down through your personal and business details.

There's a reason TurboTax is king. It also brings TurboTax Self-Employed to the table. And all enlisted active military and reservists can file state and federal taxes free. TurboTax also offers a mobile app to file your taxes.

Track your refund, check your e-file status, amend your return, access past returns and print your return all from your TurboTax account.

Cost: Varies by package tier; active duty military can file state and federal returns for free

  • Free Edition: $0, state returns included
  • Deluxe: $60, state returns additional
  • Premier: $90, state returns additional
  • Self-Employed: $120, state returns additional 

Free Version?: Yes

2. H&R Block

H&R Block® lets you go old school or new school. File your taxes with a professional in the office or via a remote meeting. You can also pay to just drop off your taxes and have them done.

File online yourself or with assistance. You can preorder H&R Block tax software to help walk you through the minor complications of marriage, children, investments, rental properties or self-employment.

H&R Block's service also comes with free audit assistance and a mid-year tax check-in. Its professionals will explain the position taken by the IRS if you're audited, and it can help you understand how to respond, free of charge. The mid-year check-in includes reminders and tools to assess your withholdings to ensure you're not surprised at tax time. And if you need an in-office consultation to prepare, that's free of charge too.

Cost: Varies by package tier

  • Online: $0
  • Online Assist: $69.99
  • Tax Pro Go (remote): $49
  • Drop Off: $69
  • Office: $69

Free Version?: Yes

Related content: How to Calculate Estimated Taxes

3. TaxAct

TaxAct can help you file your own taxes with online services or downloadable products. There are 4 online options scaled to meet the needs of basic filers or the complications of the self-employed.

TaxAct has its own tax-emempt organization edition to guide 990 informational returns. The estates and trusts edition can help you file form 1041. TaxAct also offers 3 different home and business bundles, so you can get ready to file all your taxes on your own.

Check out the TaxAct Express™ app if you want to file on-the-go. It's available for both iPhone and Android.

Cost: Varies by package tier

  • Free: $0
  • Deluxe+: $54.95
  • Premier+: $79.95
  • Self-Employed+: $109.95

Free Version?: Yes

4. TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer is a family-owned, cloud-based tax preparation platform based in Atlanta, Georgia. TaxSlayer empowers customers to tackle taxes head on with simple technology and step-by-step instructions to file state and federal taxes. 

TaxSlayer keeps it simple but efficient. You won’t be unpleasantly surprised with add-on fees for obscure deductions or needed tax forms. 

You can choose between 4 subscription packages, which all cost less than $50. If you’re an active duty military member, you can file your federal taxes completely free of charge (state returns will cost you an additional fee). TaxSlayer also offers a completely free version of its software for simple, straightforward tax returns. 

Take advantage of TaxSlayer’s useful resources to help you keep up with changing tax laws and reforms. It guarantees you’ll get your largest possible refund using its software and tax reform calculators. You can start your return for free before choosing your TaxSlayer product. 

Cost: Varies by package tier; active duty military can file federal returns for free

  • Simply Free: $0, state returns included
  • Classic: $17, state returns additional
  • Premium: $37, state returns additional
  • Self-Employed: $47, state returns additional 

Free Version?: Yes

Get Ready to File Your Taxes

If you’re planning to file your taxes by hand, make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time to do extensive research on your liability, your tax bracket and the credits and deductibles for which you’ll that you qualify.

If you have a more complicated situation, you’re managing brokerage taxes or you’ve recently undergone a major life change (like having a baby, getting married or switching from an employee to an independent contractor), you’ll run the risk of losing out on money, paying more than you owe or filing the wrong form.

Check out the IRS’s tax topics compilation, which offers answers to some of the most common tax inquiries. Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips as you get ready to file your own taxes.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is filing taxes by yourself difficult?


Filing taxes by yourself can be difficult, however it doesn’t need to be. A user-friendly tax software can help you complete your taxes quickly.

Related content: How Much is Federal Income Tax?

About Sarah Horvath

Sarah is an expert in the insurance, investing for retirement and cryptocurrency space.