Free tax filing 2017: Here's how to file your 2016 tax return without paying a dime

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Remember when you pledged to file your taxes early this year? Yeah, we all have goals we never achieve, so don't feel badly if your W-2 is still glaring at you as the deadline looms ever closer.

This year's tax season appears to be slower than ever as the IRS reported in early March that around 5.6 million fewer individual returns had made it to their office thus far compared to 2016. So while you're not the only one procrastinating, it's seriously time to do your taxes.

Here's some motivation to get started: There are lots of ways to do your taxes totally free, from programs that guide you through step-by-step to bare bones IRS forms you can fill out all on your lonesome

It's important to note that prices change frequently for tax software, so what's free today, may cost you tomorrow. Yet another reason to start right now.

Here are five free programs that will let you file your 2017 taxes without paying for the service, plus pros and cons for each one.

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1. Credit Karma Tax

Pros: 100% free for 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 federal returns. No income limit and you can file both state and federal forms for free.

Cons: Currently not mobile friendly and does not provide as much online guidance as other programs. Does not support multiple or partial-state filings.

For the first time this year, Credit Karma joins the ranks of free online tax filings. The company supports a vast list of forms, along with preparation for self-employed and small business filers. Users must sign up for Credit Karma to use Credit Karma Tax and it is only available to U.S. citizens.

Credit Karma's offering, however, isn't as polished as other programs, especially when it comes to answering questions you may have as you fill in the boxes. "It's a solid first effort from the company, and it might do the trick if you have a relatively simple return or you really know your way around a 1040," PC Mag notes. But if you need more hand holding, consider the other options below.

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2. IRS Free File

Pros : Free online software for those with income less than $64,000 and if you have a simple, straightforward return; free state filing options are available

Cons: Software is not free for independent contractors, business owners or if you have a more complex return. 

Free File is provided through an IRS partnership with a consortium of 12 privately held tax preparation companies, including TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer and others. Each offering is a little different, so the IRS website will guide you to the offerings available to you based on your age, income and state of residence.

Some programs offer free state filing, but most do not. So if you want free state returns, no matter where you live, consider the free programs listed below from TaxAct and H&R Block instead.

3. TurboTax Federal Free Edition Online

Pros: Free for anyone who files a 1040A or 1040EZ, regardless of income; user-friendly interface.

Cons: Not free if you need to file a 1040 long form; state returns cost $29.99 each

TurboTax Federal Free Edition Online allows users to access their online return from a variety of devices, and you can work at your own pace as the software will pick up where you left off. Snap a photo of your W-2 and information is automatically uploaded into the correct forms, plus information is analyzed to determine if you qualify for over 350 deductions. The free edition also supports a decent number of additional tax forms and schedules as well as the Earned Income Credit (EIC) and child tax credit.

Why is TurboTax so popular? It all comes down to ease of use: "TurboTax's interface is like a chat with a tax preparer. The software asks you questions in plain language, and it takes the answers you give and puts them in the right place on your return," NerdWallet notes. Just be careful of the upsells, as the brand is notorious for trying to upgrade you to a more expensive version after you've gotten started.

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4. TaxAct Online 2016 Free Edition

Pros: Free if you file with a 1040A or 1040EZ regardless of income; free state returns; free phone support; mobile app

Cons: Can't import some documents directly into software, no support via chat; $5 to import 2015 returns

Getting to speak to a human being on the phone is a rare luxury in the free software world, and TaxAct delivers. Like other programs, it also provides real-time refund status updates and alerts you when you've made a mistake. 

You won't get the slick user interface you'll find with TurboTax, however. "Despite the improvements to the interface, first time filers (or those filing as a small business or rental property owner for the first time) might get confused," notes the College Investor

5. H&R Block More Zero

Pros: Free to file a 1040A, 1040EZ and 1040 with Schedule A; mobile app; free federal and state returns through March 31

Cons: State returns cost $29.99 starting April 1; free version doesn't store your return

H&R Block More Zero is the only free program listed here that allows you to itemize deductions on Schedule A. And for the first time, you can claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) free of charge. Like other programs, also allows you to snap a photo of your W-2 to upload it.

If you have a more complicated tax situation, you may be out of luck. "If you need to file a Schedule C, had gambling winnings or rental income, for example, you'll need to upgrade," NerdWallet notes. 

Lastly, remember to file by March 31 or you'll have to pay $29.99 for your state returns and as well as a fee for your 1040 with Schedule A.

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