I really like the user experience for Free File Fillable Forms for crunching out the 1040. Is there something equivalent for the State of California? CalFile has more of a Q&A format like Turbo Tax or something and sometimes it's not immediately obvious what region of the 540 pertains to the specific question. I'm much prefer a form to copy all my numbers into like Fillable Forms. Anyone know of something similar for CA?

  • Just a note, "shopping" questions are not allowed on Money.SE
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 16:47
  • 5
    I think this is asking more about asking if California directly offers a free enter-numbers-into-form electronic filing option; not asking for a commercial filing option. I think asking about methods for governments to get tax filing information would be on-topic as long as it sticks to those methods specifically provided by the government.
    – user42405
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 19:21
  • 1
    I agree with @PeterCooperJr. This isn't really a shopping question, as Free File Fillable Forms is not a commercial product. It is provided by the IRS, and it is not unreasonable to ask if there is something like that from the California Franchise Tax Board where you can simply fill in the form online, without the extra features of a commercial product.
    – Ben Miller
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 20:49
  • 2
    I flagged for moderator attention to reopen, and the reply was "I think those are still off-topic. Maybe open a question on meta?" So I asked on meta: Where's the line between “Asking for a software recommendation” and “How to file taxes for my state”?
    – user42405
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 14:41

2 Answers 2



On the California Franchise Tax Board site, the list of "All e-file options" (which one gets to via the right-nav) lists several free filing options, but the only one that files directly with the state is their CalFile system. There does not appear to be something directly analogous to the IRS's Free Online Fillable Forms system. It does appear that you have an option to see a "printed" copy before actually filing, so if you're not sure what line the information in a question will go to, you may be able to do some experimenting to figure it out.


So California undoubtedly has an e-file program, but it appears to be geared towards professional or high volume tax preparers to electronically transmit returns in their so called California e-file Program.

Enroll in e-file program

Tax professionals

To automatically enroll in the California e-file Program:

  1. Apply for the IRS Electronic Filing (e-file) Program. We will receive your account information within 2 weeks after the IRS accepts you into their program.
  2. e-file with us:
    1. Tax preparers: Use your IRS-assigned Electronic Filer Identification Number (EFIN).
    2. Transmitters: Use your IRS-assigned Electronic Transmitter Identification Number (ETIN).
  3. Comply with the guidelines found in the Handbook for Authorized e-file Providers (FTB Pub. 1345).


This is an interesting bit from the linked Handbook above...

Section 2 e­file Program

2.1 General Information

Our e-file program checks the return information for completeness and accuracy. If our e-file program accepts the return, you receive an acknowledgement (ACK) showing we accepted the return. If our e-file program rejects the return, you receive an ACK identifying the problem(s) that caused our e-file program to reject the return. You must correct the errors and retransmit the return for processing.

You may electronically transmit the return Forms 540, 540NR, 540 2EZ, 541, 100, 100S, 100W, 100X, 199, 565, and 568, via a transmitter or directly to us. Returns are transmitted to us via the Internet, using our Secure Web Internet File Transfer (SWIFT) system. Check with your software provider or transmitter if you have questions about submitting your returns.

We accept e-file returns for the following tax years:

  • Individual e-file: 2021, 2020, and 2019
  • Business e-file: 2021, 2020, and 2019
  • Fiduciary e-file: 2021, 2020, and 2019

So there's definitely a backend that California has in place to receive an e-filed return, and they support at least all those form types enumerated above. CAFTB also posts documentation online about interfacing with software developers who write applications for the client half to publish returns back to CAFTB. Documentation such as FTB Pub.1436X 2018 Test Package for e-file of California Business, Individual, and Fiduciary Tax Returns and Stand-Alone Payments reveals some interesting details...

The purpose of PATS is to ensure, prior to “live” processing, that:

  • Software Developers and Transmitters send submissions in the correct format, meet our electronic filing schema specifications, and have no business rule violations (rejects).

So there's a schema involved behind the scenes that the submitted return data needs to conform to. They also offer a test and production submission pipeline for developers to develop and validate against before submitting live returns for official submission of customer returns.

According to the various tables in the document there appears to be some support for receiving returns in the form of XML or PDF data, which gives a clue to what that data that flows into SWIFT file system must look like. Required test case file type coverage

In conclusion: given all the above backend infrastructure and support for tax professionals and developers it appears that California indeed has e-file support, but they simply delegate the front end experience to third party software developers. There's no free general purpose application front end that's free online like Free File Fillable Forms. The state simply hasn't taken that on. And that begs the question. How exactly did the Federal government manage to originally get Intuit, and more recently On-LineTaxes, Inc. to build and maintain Free File Fillable Forms? Interestingly enough that new free file fillable forms provider has CA offerings https://www.olt.com/main/home/ca.asp

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