We get it; doing your taxes is boring and sometimes scary. The forms are confusing, sitting in an accountant’s office is tiring and the only light at the end of the tunnel is your potential tax return. Most folks are e-filing these days, and if you’re not already one of them, you’re probably wondering how easy it is to do on your own. We’re here to show you the many tax software available to you and help you decide which one is right for you.
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POPULAR TAX SOFTWARE
There are quite a few options to choose from, and you’ve probably heard of most of them. All of them offer some form of “free file,” but it’s very limited and mostly just for folks who only need the 1040EZ. You’ll also generally have to pay for filing your state taxes, while federal filing is “included” in any costs you might incur for having more complex tax needs.
H&R Block offers several options for e-filing, from simple, in-browser, online-only versions to more substantial downloadable software that you can install on your computer. For new filers, simple returns, and homeowners, the “Free Edition” is a safe bet and includes state filing for free. It’s also called the “H&R Block More Zero” option, and they’re offering it for a limited time this tax season. Otherwise, you can use the Deluxe option for more specific forms and access to more deductions or the Premium option for small business owners.
As for downloadable software, the benefit to this is that you don’t need to rely on H&R Block’s servers being online to access your in-progress or previous returns. There are four options for customers: Basic ($29.95), Deluxe ($54.95), Premium ($74.95) and Premium & Business ($89.95). State e-file is $19.95 for all H&R Block software options.
The nicest thing about H&R Block’s online filing options is that, at all levels, you’ll have access to an agent to chat with about your questions. It’s limited to tech support at the Free level, but both the Deluxe and Premium options let you chat online to get tax advice or get tech support by phone. If you have been seeing an H&R Block employee in person at one of their brick-and-mortar locations, their software integrates with your account, and you can switch from scheduling an appointment to doing it yourself easily, something the other software companies don’t offer.
Our members generally like H&R Block, as well, with many of them saying the software is “easier and [more] accurate to use” than other options. H&R Block is a solid option for someone who needs more help with their taxes than someone filing simply or than someone who is confident in their tax filing abilities.
Out of all the options available here, TurboTax has the best interface and is the easiest to use. It also provides an incredibly comprehensive set of options for any kind of e-filing and allows customers the option of downloading software and doing it all in-browser. TurboTax is also the most expensive of all the options listed, but that price comes with serious quality.
Online, TurboTax offers customers four different versions: the Federal Free Edition ($0 federal file, $0 state file), Deluxe ($34.99), Premier ($54.99) and Self-Employed ($89.99). The Federal Free Edition is for the really simple stuff: you’ve got one W2 that needs filing, no dividends, no house purchase, nothing. Deluxe is for people who want access to more deduction options, and it’s their most popular version. Premier is for folks with rental properties and multiple, significant investments, while Self-Employed is for, you guessed it, people who are self-employed and have some of the most complicated taxes of all. For all three of the paid versions, state filing costs an additional $36.99.
TurboTax is what I use, and it definitely holds your hand throughout the whole filing process. It checks and double checks to make sure you’re not missing out on a deduction and that you’ve filed all the forms you need. For someone with anxiety about literally everything, especially taxes, TurboTax keeps me from panicking.
Among our members, TurboTax is as recommended as H&R Block, with people split on which is truly the best. Member canoeguy1 says, “All the major brands…are fairly equal — at least for individual returns.” Among the most popular software, you’re really just picking your flavor.
TaxAct is the least expensive of the major brands, and it’s just as sleek and easy to use as the other two. It has a similar pay structure to H&R Block and TurboTax, offering customers a tiered-by-complexity selection of options to file. You can go for their in-browser, online-only options: Free (optional prior year import $10), Plus ($27) or Premium ($37), with state filing an additional $33 on the last two. Their downloadable options are: Free, Plus ($60) and Premium ($70), and only the second two include state returns as options.
If you own a business, you have a few options with TaxAct as well that are separate from the above options. They offer Sole Proprietor filing ($37), Partnership — LLC ($60), C Corporation ($60) and S Corporation ($60), all with state filing at an additional $33. The business filing options aren’t folded in with the Free, Plus or Premium options.
Taxfyle CEO and Certified Public Accountant Richard Lavina says, “The biggest difference between TaxAct and TurboTax is that they won’t hold your previous returns ransom when you need them,” giving you more freedom to access your returns when you need them without having to pay extra. Unfortunately, TaxAct separates a lot of their services into parcels, meaning you’ll have to comb their site for what you really need, while H&R Block and TurboTax consolidate their services into three or four simply-named software.
FREE TAX SOFTWARE
Credit Karma just recently started offering tax services, as they’re best known for credit score services, and their whole service is free, both for federal and state filings. They support a good chunk of the usual forms needed for filing, but we don’t recommend using them for anything more complicated than owning a home or basic dividend income. The full list of forms they support is available here, so you can check before you sign up and get started.
Credit Karma Tax’s most unsupported forms include anything to do with foreign income or nonresident aliens. Also, if you’re married filing separately in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas or Wisconsin, they can’t support your state filing. So, while Credit Karma might be great for most folks, if you have a really specific situation, you’ll want to make sure they support it before wasting any time.
FreeTaxUSA is really only free as far as federal filing goes. If you want to file your state taxes, you’ll need to cough up $12.95, and if you have to file anything more complicated than a 1040EZ, you’ll need to pay for the Deluxe edition, which is $6.99 plus the state filing fee of $12.95. You’re better off with Credit Karma, since it’s actually free and supports a larger amount of deductions and income forms.
You can also just go to the IRS’ website, download your forms, and do it yourself, but this is not recommended if your annual income is more than $64,000. The Free File service requires that you have last year’s tax return and all your documents ready, but if you’ve got simple taxes, this is probably the most efficient way to do it if you really don’t want to pay. You won’t have access to any audit protection or stored tax returns for next year, but if you’re not worried about that or like keeping your own meticulous records without relying on digital storage, this is the option for you.
MOBILE TAX SOFTWARE
Never thought you could do your taxes on your phone, did you? Taxfyle is an iPhone and Android app that lets you complete your taxes on-the-go (if that’s your thing) by hooking you up with a licensed professional. All you need to do is send your documents over to them, and they take care of the rest. You can also chat with them in real-time and have all your questions answered. This is more of a done-for-you service than a do-it-yourself one, but if you’re looking for a tax agent to help you out but don’t want to make an appointment and sit in a waiting room, this is a great option.
According to their CEO, Richard Lavina, “As for price, their cheapest returns start at $39 with three years of audit protection included.” He also said “you’ll receive an upfront quote once you answer some simple questions,” so if it turns out your tax situation is more complicated, they’ll let you know how much that’ll cost you before you commit. Taxfyle can be used in-browser, too, but the app functionality makes it a great thing for people who travel a lot or are on their phones more than their computers.
MAJOR TAX SOFTWARE COMPANIES
H&R Block, TurboTax and TaxAct all have mobile apps you can use as well, but they’re more limited than the computer-based or browser-based software discussed above.
H&R Block just recently released TaxEdge for iPhones and other iDevices, and it’s meant to be used similarly to a messaging app, where you’re hooked up with a tax expert that analyzes your uploaded documents. This service only works if you already use Everlance or Hurdlr, and the pricing is similar to what you would pay if you filed in-browser or by download.
TurboTax offers the TurboTax Mobile App, which allows you to take pictures of your documents and connect directly with a tax expert while you file yourself. It’s available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and it operates like TurboTax’s regular software, guiding you through your taxes with simple questions that identify what forms you need and what deductions you qualify for. Again, the pricing for filing is similar to what you’d pay if you filed at your computer, but the app itself is free to download.
TaxAct Express is TaxAct’s mobile app, and it only allows you to file federally for free. It supports very basic filing, so don’t expect to be doing your small business taxes with this app. If you want to e-file or print and file state, you have to pay $7.99.
All of these apps integrate with an account on their respective companies’ websites or softwares, so you can start on the app and continue on the computer. Tax apps give taxpayers more freedom and mobility when doing their taxes, so if that’s something you’ve always wanted during tax season, we recommend giving one of these a try