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In the past, many taxpayers either tried to slog through the paperwork on their own or spent huge amounts of money to hire a professional tax preparer. Of course, in today's digital age, it should come as no surprise that more than 53 million people use tax software to prepare and file their returns online.
One of the most compelling reasons to use a reputable tax software package is because of the constant changes to tax law. Figuring out what exemptions you qualify for, what income requires you to pay additional taxes, and how to claim any deductions can be challenging and also have a major impact on whether you get a big refund - or owe big time!
Sunday, September 19th
Over 60 years of experience and more than 800 million tax returns prepared: that's the kind of expertise you get when using H&R Block for your tax preparation. From thousands of brick-and-mortar locations for in-person help to easy-to-use software for preparing your return on your own, this company beats the competition and should be the first one you consider when choosing a package for working on your taxes.
As with most of the top-rated tax programs on the market, H&R Block gives you three ways to take the DIY approach to preparing your return: buy the software as a CD-ROM, download it directly from their website, or use their online portal. Because so many customers are shifting to the online experience, we've focused our review on that option.
Using the H&R Block interface to prepare your taxes is pretty foolproof. You can either follow the steps as suggested by the software, or you can click around in the different sections of your return - Personal Information, Income, Adjustments & Deductions, Credits, etc. - to enter details as you like. For example, some people prefer waiting to prepare their return until they've received all of their tax statements in the mail, while others like to upload those details as they receive them. The choice is yours!
If you're not sure which package you'll need, don't worry. As you answer questions, select the situations that apply to you, and move through the online platform, you'll be told if you need to upgrade to the next level to access the required forms. No surprises here: each step of the way, H&R Block tells you what you'll pay for preparing your return, instead of making you wait until the very end.
What will you pay when using H&R Block to do your taxes online? Take a look:
All of H&R Block's plans require you to pay for filing any needed State returns. Expect fees ranging from $29.99 to $39.99, depending on which Federal package you select. Overall, this provider's fees are not the least expensive in the industry, but they are lower than their biggest competitor, TurboTax.
Each package also allows you to import previous returns from other tax preparers, making it less likely that you'll enter erroneous information in your current return.
While H&R Block makes it simple to get in-person help at their many office locations, what if you don't have one conveniently located near you, or you work hours that make it hard to get there when they're open? No problem: you can opt into their Tax Pro Review plan. This feature is priced at $144.99, no matter which package level you initially needed (i.e. Deluxe, Premium, Self-Employed), but when compared with what you'd spend to have a tax preparer handle your return from the get-go, you're getting an excellent deal. Tax Pro Review means that your tax return is double-checked, signed, and filed by one of H&R Block's experts (who have an average of 15 years of experience), while allowing you to have protected, private conversations with him or her at your convenience.
As with the majority of the industry's best tax software providers, H&R Block has a maximum refund guarantee, if you enter the same data with any other tax prep program and get a result with a higher refund. Want a little extra bang for your tax return buck? If you opt to put some or all of your refund on an Amazon gift card, you'll get a bonus of 5%.
You're also given audit support if you get a tax notice related to any return you file using H&R Block's program. They will help you understand the process and make suggestions for the steps to follow when responding to the notification. For an additional fee, you can also get in-person audit representation or assistance in preparing your actual response to the IRS or other taxing body.
H&R Block is the ideal tax program for almost anyone, from young professionals preparing their return for the first time to couples filing jointly with lots of business expenses and deductions to track. You won't find any other tax prep platform with the range of features offered by H&R Block - and at such competitive prices. As our first choice among tax software options, this provider is sure to help you prepare your taxes with as much - or as little - professional assistance as you need.
When it comes to tax software, few companies have the brand recognition as TurboTax - and for good reason. Every year, their tax prep program adds new, useful features, and their interface is still the easiest to use by far, with simple questions like "Did you own a home last year?" and friendly coaching-style guidance if you have any tricky situations in your taxpayer information.
While TurboTax still offers their tax software as a desktop (CD-ROM) and downloadable program, the majority of its newer users are relying on their online platform to file their Federal and State tax returns. You can find out pricing details about the first two versions on the TurboTax site, and here's what you need to know about their extremely well-rounded, fully-featured online tax software:
Although TurboTax doesn't have any in-person offices you can visit to get help with your tax return, they do offer TurboTax Live. This add-on lets you talk to an EA or CPA to get unlimited help and tax advice for the whole year, and reviews of your return. If you're new to preparing your return and want the peace of mind that comes from having your questions answered by a professional, this is a much more affordable option than having one prepare your tax return from start to finish. Fees for the Live service range from $79.99 to $199.99, depending on which package level you select.
Another big plus when you choose TurboTax is their Audit Support Guarantee. If the IRS contacts you about a potential audit, you can get free one-on-one guidance from an experienced tax professional, answers to your questions, and assistance on what to expect and how to prepare.
And, when it comes to free tools, TurboTax is hard to beat. We particularly like Turbo, their complimentary service for all users (even if you don't buy their tax software) that tracks your financial health as reflected by your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and verified income. You can get free financial advice based on your goals, keep all of your credit and loan details in one place, and get suggestions for savings on any interest you're paying. You'll find Turbo and many other resources like tax calculators and expense estimators at the bottom of the main TurboTax website.
You may be wondering why TurboTax comes in second place in our review, given their long-standing reputation on the market and extremely user-friendly interface. This tax software is edged out by H&R Block for two main reasons: cost and in-person help.
Across all package levels, TurboTax is always more expensive by at least $10, including a spendy $44.99 for preparing and filing a State return. And, when you add in the option for having your return reviewed by a live tax professional, TurboTax will probably cost you up to $50 more than their top competition.
And, even though TurboTax has fantastic Live options, some people feel more reassured by knowing that they can go to a local office if they get stuck while preparing their tax return, or if they get an audit notification from the IRS.
TurboTax is still one of the industry's best options for tax software. The platform is well-regarded by customers as the easiest to use for preparing tax returns, and the options offered make it the most well-rounded in the marketplace. We have nothing but love for TurboTax, and recommend it as an excellent choice for tax preparation for most consumers.
E-file is one of the newest names in the online tax prep marketplace, getting its start in 2014. Since then, more than a million US taxpayers have used the platform to prepare their tax returns.
The main reason to consider E-file for your tax program is because of their rock-bottom pricing. As with most providers, you can get free Federal Basic software that includes single or joint filing. For just a little extra at $18.99, you'll get access to E-file's Deluxe Plus program, which includes income up to $100,000 and allows you to file with dependents, deduct mortgage interest, and claim any retirement income. Finally, for just $34.95, E-file gives you their Premium Plus package, which supports all deductions and credits, allows you to enter both business and personal income, and allows you to itemize your deductions if necessary. These prices are much lower than the competition.
Be aware that E-file keeps those prices low by not offering downloadable or CD-ROM tax software - in other words, your only option with this service is to complete their online tax prep program.
You should also know that E-file only offers customer support via email. Fortunately, many customer reviews say that their questions were answered promptly and accurately, even without any more live options.
If you're new to filing your taxes with an online program, you can find a wealth of information at the bottom of the E-file site. Whether you want to learn about deductions and credits or your rights as a taxpayer, you'll find that and much more. E-file doesn't offer any dedicated support in the event of an audit, so if you have any concerns about what can trigger audits and how to respond if you are selected for one, be sure to read that article on the site too.
So, compared with the two higher-ranked tax software programs in our review, what is E-file missing? First, you won't get as much hand-holding throughout the process of filling in your tax forms. You can't upload previous tax returns in order to automatically fill in some of the details you need, and you can't connect to your employer's system to upload your W-2 directly: you'll have to enter all of that information manually. And, regarding that email-only customer support, you'll only get help with using the tax software itself, not advice from tax professionals. Again, keeping their service to the bare-bones minimum is the way E-file keeps costs low.
While E-file isn't the most robust tax prep program available, it is the most affordable for most people. We recommend this tax software for people who have simple returns or who already have some experience with preparing their own returns - you'll save a lot of money compared with higher-priced competitors.
TaxSlayer is the best choice for people who are comfortable with preparing their taxes and who want to save money. It's one of the only tax software products in our review that offers a completely free option for both Federal and State filing.
Why should you be comfortable with tax prep to choose this program? Two reasons: getting responses from TaxSlayer representatives can take up to 48 hours via email, and even though the company advertises support via phone and chat, those channels aren't easy to find. And, if you need audit assistance, you only qualify for help from TaxSlayer if you've used their Premium software package. No returns with Schedule C, K-1, or form 2555 will be covered, either.
On the other hand, TaxSlayer has some features that make it worth considering. First and foremost is the fact that they're less expensive than most of their competitors. Take a look at what you get with each of the provider's tax prep packages:
After we browsed the site for a while, we got a pop-up offering us a discount of 20% on our Federal e-file.
Another nice perk is the possibility of paying nothing out of pocket when using TaxSlayer. If you qualify for a Federal refund and opt to have it delivered via direct deposit, you can choose to have your TaxSlayer fees deducted from that refund.
TaxSlayer guarantees to give you the maximum refund you're entitled to receive; if you enter the same data in any other tax software and come up with a bigger refund, TaxSlayer will give you back any fees you paid them. The site also has a helpful Tax Refund calculator, which you'll find under the Support & Tax Tools link at the top of the page. Of course, this tool only gives you a rough estimate and is not meant to give you detailed information, especially if your tax situation is complex.
While TaxSlayer has a generally good reputation, with an average of 8 stars out of 10 across 4000+ customer reviews, some customers had issues when trying to use this tax software close to the filing deadline. The site crashed, data was lost, and people were scrambling to use other online tax prep services - which they were able to do without a problem. We appreciate that TaxSlayer responded to those customer complaints with a commitment to improve their service, but this might not be the ideal software to choose if you've put off doing your taxes until the last possible minute.
TaxSlayer is a great choice if you've got a simple return and want to file both Federal and State tax returns at no cost. Or, if your return is a little more complicated and you're familiar with the process of preparing your taxes, this tax software might save you a little money over the competition. But, if you want a well-rounded tax prep program that will walk you through all of the steps and that offers abundant customer support, TaxSlayer won't be your best fit.
eSmart Tax is owned by Liberty Tax, a well-known tax preparation service with more than 4,000 office locations throughout the United States. That means that if you need in-person help with your return and you happen to have a Liberty Tax office near you, assistance is just around the corner. That can be a big perk compared with other tax preparation software companies that have no brick-and-mortar locations for face-to-face help.
eSmart Tax offers some nice guarantees on their tax prep services. First, they guarantee 100% accuracy on their calculations: if there's a miscalculation that results in interest and/or penalty fees, eSmart Tax will cover those costs. This company also promises to deliver the biggest refund over competitor services. If any other tax software delivers a bigger refund, eSmart Tax will refund the tax prep fees.
This tax software uses an interview-based application to walk you through the steps of your return. All of the questions have simple "yes/no" answers that will determine which forms you need, and which W-2s and other statements you'll need to upload/scan.
Pricing at eSmart Tax is reasonable and competitive with other services. At the time of our most recent review, there was a 20% discount promotion in place. You can always file a simple Federal return for free with eSmart Tax, while more complicated tax situations (deductions for home ownership, small business ownership, etc.) require packages ranging from $35.96 to $55.96. Those prices reflect that 20% discount.
Those are all the positives when using eSmart Tax software. However, there were quite a few things we didn't love about this platform.
First, in order to preview how their software works, you'll have to click on the "Start for Free" button and create an account. We would prefer to see, at minimum, a walkthrough and screenshots of their software before giving them our personal information.
Also, eSmart Tax offers add-ons but doesn't disclose their pricing unless you create that account. Some of these extras include getting printed bound copies of your return, 5 years of safe-keeping on your return, and enhanced audit assistance - all of which can be purchased as an eSmart Bundle. What would you pay? Good question. Other than the enhanced audit assistance that shows a cost of $29.99, there's no easily-found details for the costs on those other features.
What if you need help with the software or your return? You'd better be comfortable with getting customer support online, because their only options are their social media channels, email, and live chat - there's no toll-free number you can use to actually speak with a customer representative.
eSmart Tax says that you can easily import information from previous years' tax returns, even if you used a different tax software program to prepare them. But, we found customer complaints describing difficulties in getting the eSmart Tax program to recognize their imported information. That's not a problem if this is your first time using any tax preparation software, but could be a huge deal-breaker if you're looking to switch from a competitor to eSmart Tax.
Finally, many online tax prep platforms offer a refund bonus of 5-10% if you opt to get your refund as a gift card to stores like Amazon or Target rather than a direct deposit or check in the mail. You won't get that at eSmart Tax.
At the end the day, there's nothing wrong with using eSmart Tax for preparing your return, and this company might be your ideal choice if you want the peace of mind that comes from knowing there's probably an in-person location near you if you get stuck. But, if you're looking for robust features, clear pricing, and the ability to talk to a representative on the phone, you'll need to choose a different tax software platform in our review.
Liberty Tax has helped millions of taxpayers to prepare and file their returns since 1997. As one of the few online tax software options that includes the ability to meet with an in-person representative if problems arise, it's easy to see why people would be interested in using this service.
Because of their 4000+ brick-and-mortar locations, Liberty is able to include a free in-office double-check of your tax return when you use their service to prepare it online. Along with features that allow you to import previous years' returns that you prepared using competitor software, online-to-office transition of your in-progress return if you get stuck, and audit assistance, Liberty Tax seems like a good choice for tax prep.
However, using the Liberty Tax website wasn't as easy as most of their competitors. When we went to get an idea of their online tax options, we were distracted by the constantly-scrolling display of their four federal tax filing packages: Simple, Basic, Deluxe, and Federal. To find out what each package included, we had to click on the "Start Now" button - which took us to a page that asked us to create an account instead of giving us more detailed information. (It felt like we were being asked to get married on a first date!)
This might be due to the fact that Liberty Tax is prioritizing a different site, eSmart Tax, as their online tax software portal. Although some pages on both sites had a copyright date that was 2 years old at the time of our review, the eSmart site was easier to navigate and understand. Both companies offer the same services, as eSmart Tax is owned by Liberty Tax.
Liberty Tax is also the only service in our review that doesn't have an option that includes free filing of simple federal returns. Even their sister site, eSmart Tax, has a free option. Liberty does allow you to create an account for free and start preparing your return - "try us for free and pay only when you file" - but who wants to go through all of the steps of preparing a return and then NOT file? That's really not giving you anything for free, is it?
Because the Liberty Tax site was challenging to navigate, less than transparent in their pricing, and required you to create an account and start filing a return to see how their system works, you'll probably have a more hassle-free experience with another service. And, if you like the in-office features offered by Liberty Tax but want a fluid, up-to-date online experience, your best bet would be to start with the eSmart Tax site instead of using the Liberty Tax main website.
At first glance, TaxAct looks like a reasonable option for tax software. While they don't offer the in-person help options that some of their competitors have, TaxAct does have a wide variety of tax prep programs that includes online and downloadable software.
Since most people opt for the online plans, here's what you can expect from TaxAct's packages:
If you need to file State tax returns as well, you'll pay anywhere from $19.95 to $39.95 per state, depending on which Federal package you select.
One of the features of TaxAct that we like is the ability to use the software interface to work on any section of your return that you prefer. For example, if you want to enter details in the Life Events (Marriage/Divorce, Health Insurance, etc.) section first, then switch over to Dependents, you can. As you work through the various questions that apply to your situation, TaxAct has pop-ups that will explain to you exactly what forms you may need in order to claim deductions and receive credits, prove your income, and so forth.
TaxAct checks all of your work and lets you know if there are any potential problems with information you've entered. Red Alerts indicate that you have incomplete or inconsistent details that might prevent you from filing or trigger inquiries from the IRS. Yellow Alerts happen for potential problems or for items that you may need to take extra steps to complete your return. Finally, Green Alerts let you know where you may have opportunities for tax savings, but aren't items that would prevent you from submitting your tax return.
When it comes to refunds, TaxAct lets you choose between a check, direct deposit, or an American Express Serve Debit Account. You can also get up to a $100 bonus if you opt to get part of your refund on a gift card from popular retailers like Nike, AMC Theaters, and Groupon.
So, after all of these positive aspects of TaxAct, why would we rank them so low when compared with other tax software programs? It's all because of recent customer experiences. At the time of this review, we found dozens of complaints from the preceding month that described horrible experiences when trying to get help from TaxAct's customer support. People said that unless they tried to place their call within the first few minutes of the business day, they got messages saying that the phone lines were "full" for the rest of the day. Similar frustrations were reported with trying to get help via TaxAct's email support; some people said they waited 8 days to get a response via phone and email together, and got nothing.
It was also disappointing to see that customers who used TaxAct for nearly a decade felt that they had to abandon the platform because of all of the problems they encountered in the most recent tax year. Why would a new customer want to sign up for this service if long-term customers are switching to a different tax prep service?
We hope to see more positive comments in the future, but for now we recommend that you look to one of the better-rated tax programs in our evaluation - especially if you are new to doing your own taxes, so that you'll have access to the customer support you may need.
Tax software can save you a lot of time and stress by staying up-to-date on each change made by the IRS, so that your return is accurate to the penny. But with all of the different options out there, how can you decide which tax software is right for you?
Here are several factors to keep in mind:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best Tax Software available today. We hope this information helps you choose the right package for your needs, so that you can file your returns accurately and easily!
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