upper waypoint

The 2024 Tax Deadline Approaches. From Free Filing to Refunds, Here's What to Know

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

A young couple sit at a table looking at a laptop and papers in front of them.
Every household's tax situation is different, and free or low-cost tax experts can be a helpful resource. (skynesher)

Leer en español

There are only a few weeks left before the April 15 deadline to file your 2023 taxes if you haven’t already done so.

And if you’re feeling stressed about how much you may have to pay after talking to friends — or if you’re left confused by a surge of social media videos giving out incorrect tax advice — this one’s for you.

We talked to Bay Area tax experts to understand exactly what the IRS has changed for this year’s filing and what has stayed the same — and to debunk some of those tax rumors, too.

Jump straight to:

If you’re reading this a few days before April 15 and you’re worried that you won’t find a tax expert near you to help you file before the deadline, there’s a new IRS tool available to California filers that can help you file from home for free (scroll down for more on that ). Or if you’re looking for free, in-person tax help, there are dozens of nonprofit organizations across the Bay Area offering free tax filing services. Find the closest free or low-cost tax resources with the United Way Bay Area’s map.

Keep reading to learn what’s true — or false — about filing your 2023 taxes by April 15, 2024. And remember, everyone’s tax situation is different, so if you have questions or concerns about your individual tax filing, it’s always best to speak with a tax expert.

Is the deadline this year really April 15?

That’s right. Unless you live or work in San Diego County (more on that below), the deadline for filing your state and federal taxes in California this year is Monday, April 15.

In the past few years, the IRS granted automatic extensions to millions of taxpayers around the United States due to the pandemic and natural disasters. Last year, for example, the agency allowed millions of Californians to file and pay their taxes by Nov. 16. But this year, the IRS has stuck to their regular April 15 deadline.

The IRS, however, has granted an extension this year to a specific group of Californians: People who live or own a business in San Diego County.

Severe storms and floods hit San Diego County in January, and following a disaster declaration from FEMA, the IRS announced that residents now have until June 17 to file their 2023 federal taxes. The State of California Tax Franchise Board has also confirmed that the same extension applies to state taxes for San Diego County filers.

Do you need more time to file? The IRS does have an option to request an extension and get more time to submit all your information — but this isn’t a free pass. You will still need to estimate how much you owe Uncle Sam and pay that amount when you request the extension.

A woman sits at her kitchen table and sifts through documents, looking concerned. Next to her is her opened laptop.
This year, only people living and working in San Diego County have received an automatic filing extension on their state and federal taxes. (MoMo Productions/Getty Images)

I heard that I can now file my taxes directly to the IRS for free. How does that work?

This year, the IRS launched a pilot version of a Direct File Tool. This means that residents in 12 states, including California, can now file their taxes directly with the IRS through a virtual platform that walks you step-by-step through the process. Once you’re done, the IRS will have your information without you needing to leave the house or pay for an online tax service.

It’s been a long, fraught road to bring free direct tax filing to the United States. Several groups across the country pushed the IRS for years to make this tool available so that more working- and middle-class families would have access to free tax filing services and reduce their dependency on private tax filers. “We believe that the tax filing should be free, simple, easy, automatic,” says Teri Olle, with the Economic Security Project, one of the organizations that successfully advocated for the Direct File Tool. “This pilot really just puts money into people’s hands.”

But there are a few things to remember about the new IRS Direct File tool:

Not everyone can use Direct File

Anyone who received a W-2 for their 2023 income can use the Direct File tool, regardless of income, as well as people who received Social Security income or unemployment benefits. Folks who do not have a Social Security number but do have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number can also use the IRS Direct File Tool.

However, if you only worked gig industry jobs (like driving for Lyft or delivering for DoorDash) and you only received a 1099 but not a W-2, unfortunately, you cannot use the Direct File tool — at least not this time around.

You can only file federal taxes with Direct File

To get started with the IRS Direct File Tool, you’ll need your W-2, additional documentation, as well as your government ID. But once you’re done, it’s crucial that you head over to CalFile to then complete your state taxes — since the IRS Direct File Tool only takes care of your federal taxes.


I saw on social media that I could avoid paying taxes if I selected “Exempt” on my W-4. Is that true?

This is not true. In fact, tax experts say that doing this could actually put you in a much more difficult position with the IRS in the future.

To explain why, let’s review what a W-4 is: A form that your employer should provide you with — usually when you begin working for them — that lets your employer know how much of your income they should deduct (or “withhold”) from your pay in order to pay your income taxes.

If you get a pay stub each month, you may see that federal and state taxes have taken a percentage of your paycheck. This happens because you are marked “Non-exempt” on your W-4. When they file, many folks see that they have already paid all or most of what they owe to the IRS for the year because they’ve been paying off their tax liability bit by bit with each paycheck.

So, what happens when you choose to go “Exempt” on your W-4 instead? Usually, what happens is that you’ll get a bigger paycheck each month because taxes aren’t being withheld. But this doesn’t stop Uncle Sam from eventually wanting his money. When the time comes to file, you may now owe a much bigger amount because you have to pay your whole tax bill at once — versus paying it month by month if you had chosen “Non-exempt” on your W-4.

If you are a gig worker (you drive for Uber, for example), you can set up quarterly payments to the IRS and, that way, avoid getting hit with a huge tax bill when filing.

“[Gig workers are] self-employed and they have to pay taxes,” says Lindsay Rojas, tax specialist and program manager with United Way Bay Area. “They’re not withholding unless they know that they need to make those estimated payments because they’re their own employer.” Learn more about how gig workers can set up direct payments to the IRS throughout the year.

A family of four -- two adult parents or caregivers, and two children -- are photographed skipping along a wet street, holding hands.
If you’ve been claiming the child tax credit, there are updates to know for 2024. (Emma Bauso/Pexels)

I have children but I got a smaller tax refund than my friends who also have kids. Did my tax filer do something wrong?

Something that United Way’s Rojas says she always stresses to clients: Everyone’s tax situation is different.

“It depends on the client,” she says, and “it’s never a cookie-cutter situation where you can say what happens with one person will happen with everybody else.”

Rojas emphasizes, however, that families may see smaller refunds this year due to changes in the Child Tax Credit that started last year. During the pandemic, the Child Tax Credit went up to $3,600 for children under 6 and to $3,000 for kids between ages 6 and 18. During that time, parents and caregivers were seeing refunds that were much bigger than what they had received before the pandemic.

But starting last year, the Child Tax Credit went back down to $2,000 credit for every child 16 or younger — and kids who are 17 no longer qualify for the credit. There’s also an additional requirement to receive these rebates: Parents need to have made at least $2,500 in income last year to qualify.

All of this means that with these changes, many parents and caregivers may see much smaller refunds in 2024. And in some cases, families may actually owe money to the IRS when they file, depending on their situation.

If you made less than $2,500 last year and have kids, you may still qualify for California’s Young Child Tax Credit. This is a rebate for families who made $30,931 or less last year and have at least one child who is younger than 6. “[Parents] don’t have to have income to claim that credit, but they do need to be the ones who are providing the support for the child — and that [support] can come in different ways,” Rojas says.

Keep in mind that there are also many other credits you may qualify for, depending on your situation. And if you’re filing in person, regardless of whether that’s at a free community tax clinic or with a private filer, make sure that you share exactly what has changed about your life this past year, whether that is marriage, a divorce, a kid in college or even if you bought an electric car. And if you don’t know what you should be telling your filer, just ask them.

“You need to fully understand your return,” Rojas says.

Is it true that I can get a bigger refund if I use a private tax service?

Sometimes we may believe that if something’s free, it might be lower quality. Olle from the Economic Security Project says she’s noticed that this way of thinking often motivates how and where some people file their taxes — and can push them toward paying a professional tax filer.

“There’s been this conventional wisdom that the paid options ‘do better’,” she says. “But that has not been shown to be true.”

In a 2014 study, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent federal agency, sent undercover officials to visit 19 randomly selected private tax preparers and found that out of those, 17 preparers made some errors when filing.

GAO emphasized that the sample used in the study “cannot be generalized,” but after releasing its findings, this office recommended Congress give the IRS more power to regulate private tax preparers.

If you go to a free tax clinic that’s administered by the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, many of the staff there have filed tax returns for years and have gone through rigorous training designed by IRS staff themselves. You can find the nearest VITA site near you on United Way Bay Area’s website.

Jaqueline Marcelos, who helps families file their taxes for free at San Francisco’s Mission Economic Development Agency, told KQED in 2023 that over the years, clients come to her thinking that working with a private filer instead could get them bigger returns.

“So many clients say, ‘I am going to report that I donated $50, $60, or I want to put down this expense, and I am going to request an extra form in my taxes,” Marcelos says — but while a private filing company can write off what a client asks for, “that [still] might not increase the amount of money that you’re getting back.”

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2024. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID-19, how to cope with intense winter weather, and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger and help us decide what to cover here on our site and on KQED Public Radio, too.


lower waypoint
next waypoint