It’s everyone’s least favorite time of year: tax season.
Between frantically searching for your tax forms, organizing your receipts and trying to figure out how much it’s going to cost you to file, tax season is stressful… to say the least. Thankfully, easy-to-use software is here to help. Some of it’s even free.
Note: The prices below are accurate as of Jan. 9, 2020 but may fluctuate throughout tax season.
The Best Paid Tax Software
The three best online tax software with paid plans are undoubtedly TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxAct.
The Best Tax Software Overall: TurboTax
TurboTax has four plans. When you look at the plans online, you’ll see a price crossed out for each option, then a lower price featured next to it.
What’s the real price? After talking with TurboTax customer service, the employee told me she didn’t know when (or if) the higher price would come into play. She advised us to just take the lower price into account—which we were thrilled to hear!
Here are the four plans:
- The Free Edition is completely free, both for state and federal tax returns. If your situation is fairly simple, this is a good plan for you.
- The Deluxe is TurboTax’s most popular plan because it’s for homeowners and people who donate to charities. This plan is $40 to file for federal (state is additional).
- The Premier is $70 for federal (additional for state). This plan is good for people who have investments and rental property.
- The Self-Employed is for, you guessed it, self-employed people. It is $90 to file federal (additional for state).
So, what makes TurboTax the best online tax filing software? Two things come to mind: It’s extremely easy to use, and TurboTax has your back.
Even a CPA will vouch for TurboTax. “I actually informally started my own tax practice using TurboTax to prepare people’s returns from my kitchen table,” said Ben Rugg, CPA.
Take the following into consideration:
You Can Snap a Photo of Your W-2.
With TurboTax, you don’t have to spend an hour typing in all that information from each of your W-2s. Just snap a picture of your W-2 and upload it to the site, and you’re good to go.
You Have Live Support Available.
You can use TurboTax online customer service, 24/7. Keep in mind, this is not the same as TurboTax Live, which provides you with help from certified CPAs and EAs at an extra cost. The live support available in these plans simply gives you access to a TurboTax specialist.
You Won’t Miss Anything.
TurboTax reviews all your information and gives you the “green light” when you’re in the clear to submit everything.
You’re Guaranteed to Get the Maximum Refund.
TurboTax is confident you will owe the least — or will get the most back — when you e-file using their product in comparison to using any other software. If you receive better results by using another tax software, TurboTax will give your money back.
You Have Personalized Audit Support.
TurboTax provides audit support, which means professionals are available to give you advice if you’re audited by the IRS. TurboTax provides audit defense through TaxAudit. You can purchase it for $39.99.
The Tax Software With the Best Support: H&R Block
H&R Block has four online tax filing plans:
- The Free online plan for simple situations costs $0 for both federal tax and state returns.
- The Deluxe online plan costs $29.99 for federal and $36.99 for state. It is ideal for homeowners, people who donate frequently and those with health savings accounts.
- The Premium online plan is for freelancers, contractors and investors and costs $49.99 for federal and $36.99 for state filing.
- The Self-Employed online plan is for self-employed people and small business owners. The price is $79.99 for federal and $36.99 for state filing.
H&R Block also offers four Online Assist options, which allow you to file with help from a tax expert, enrolled agent or a CPA. There are four options:
- The Basic Online Assist is for people with a W-2 and children, as well as education costs. The price is $39.99 for federal returns, but state returns cost nothing.
- The Deluxe Online Assist is for homeowners, donations and HSAs. It costs $69.99 for federal returns and $36.99 for each state filed.
- The Premium Online Assist is for freelancers, contractors and investors. It costs $109.99 for federal returns and $36.99 for each state filed.
- The Self-Employed Assist is for those who work for themselves and for small business owners. It costs $139.99 for federal returns and $36.99 for state returns.
H&R Block offers services similar to those of TurboTax, such as the ability to snap photos of W-2s and obtain audit support. (You can purchase its Peace of Mind service to receive audit defense.)
However, it doesn’t have quite as many fancy features as TurboTax. For example, it’s harder to jump around from section to section with H&R Block. So, while it’s still easy to use, it’s not as user friendly as TurboTax.
What sets H&R Block apart from TurboTax? Its customer service.
Maybe this is your first time filing your own taxes, or you have unique issues, like you have to include information for three jobs in two states or self-employment income. H&R Block could work for you if you think you’ll have a lot of questions along the way.
Here’s what makes H&R Block’s customer service stand out:
- You can ask for help in several ways. As with TurboTax, you can ask for help via live chat. For most of the year, you can only access live chat during certain hours of the day. However, during tax season (Jan. 15 – April 17) they’re available 24/7. Their phone service is available for longer hours than what most other companies offer, they have offices for in-person consultations and you can even tweet at them with questions.
- Share your screen. You don’t have to struggle to explain your issues to customer support. You can share your screen with them so they can see exactly what you’re going through and show you what to do.
- Access the technical and tax help center. H&R Block splits its help questions into three sections: online filing help for issues like troubleshooting, software help for inquiries about how to actually use the software and tax guidance for general questions about how to file your taxes. They have all their bases covered, and it’s easy to navigate.
- It provides a tax checklist. If you’re a visual learner, H&R Block’s checklists can help you stay on task and put your mind at ease. The company will provide you with a standard one, but if you prefer to create your own, it asks you questions and puts together a personalized list for your needs.
You Can Get Help in Several Ways.
As with TurboTax, you can ask for help via live chat. For most of the year, you can only access live chat from 7 am to 7 p.m. However, during tax season (Jan. 13 – April 19) they’re available 24/7. Their phone service is available for longer hours than what most other companies offer, they have offices for in-person consultations and you can even tweet questions to them.
You Can Share Your Screen With Customer Support.
You don’t have to struggle to explain your issues to customer support. You can share your screen with them so they can see exactly what you’re going through and show you what to do.
It Offers an Online Technical and Tax Help Center.
H&R Block splits its help center into three sections: online filing help for issues like troubleshooting, software help for inquiries about how to actually use the software and tax guidance for general questions about how to file your taxes. They have all their bases covered, and it’s easy to navigate.
It Provides a Tax Checklist.
If you’re a visual learner, H&R Block’s tax checklists can help you stay on task and put your mind at ease. The company will provide you with a standard one, but if you prefer to create your own, it asks you questions and puts together a personalized list for your needs.
The Best Tax Software for Budget Filers: TaxAct
All you Penny Hoarders out there are probably excited for a budget option, and TaxAct doesn’t disappoint. It comes with four plan options:
- The Free plan is completely free for both federal and state returns.
- The Deluxe Plus plan costs $29.95 for federal tax returns, plus more for state returns. TaxAct recommends the Deluxe Plus plan for homeowners and for people who have used credits or deductions over the past year. You should also use this plan if you want to report itemized deductions.
- The Premier Plus plan costs $39.95 and more for state returns. You can use the Premier Plus plan to do everything you’d need to do with the previous three plans, as well as report any money earned from rental property, stocks or investments. As an added bonus, you also have more advanced support options, including limited chat through the TaxAct app and the ability to share your screen with your representative.
- The Self-Employed Plus plan only costs $74.95 for federal returns, and state returns are again additional.
TaxAct doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as TurboTax or H&R Block. For example, it doesn’t offer a live support chat. However, considering how low the prices are, you still get a quality services with some nifty features, including the following:
It’s Easy to Use From Year to Year.
In every plan other than the free one, you can automatically import the previous year’s tax return that you completed through TaxAct. In fact, you can access a year’s return for up to seven years. TaxAct even has a “Life Events Section,” where you simply check which life events have changed from the previous year. Maybe you’ve gotten married or had a child. If you think you’ll be filing your own taxes for the foreseeable future, TaxAct just made this way easier.
TaxAct Guarantees 100% Accuracy.
If you don’t get the highest tax refund or lowest amount due through TaxAct, the company gives you a full refund and pays the difference in what you could have gotten. The best part? If TaxAct wasn’t 100% accurate, it covers any legal costs it caused, up to $100,000.
It Provides Audit Support.
Just like TurboTax and H&R Block, TaxAct offers audit support, and you can buy audit defense. However, this will cost you $44.95, which is a little more expensive than buying audit defense from its competitors.
|Costs for Federal
Deluxe: $29.99 Premium: $49.99
Self Employed: $79.99
|Free Edition: $0
Premier: $70 to $80
Self Employed: $90
Self Employed+: $74.95
|Costs for State
|Additional cost for all options
|Additional cost for all options
|Level of Support
|Ask a Tax Pro service (unlimited chat and screen share), price varies by package; online assist options for extra cost free 24/7 tech support; brick-and-mortar locations for assistance, but that comes at a fee.
|TurboTax Live Basic for $50 federal and additional cost for state (essentially is the free version of TurboTax but with on-demand video access to an actual tax professional, who provides a final review); video tutorials; in-app chat; etc.
|Minimal, but increases with higher-tiered packages; ranges from online FAQs to phone and in-app chat, though reviews of these support options aren’t kind.
|Has good in-app tools (like W-2 import, a searchable database and links to important information).
|Most user-friendly interface on the market; basic in-app tools (like W-2 import, chat/interview experience for filling out, etc.)
|Basic in-app tools (like W-2 import and calculators); improved over previous years, but still rudimentary.
Note: Tax software prices will fluctuate throughout tax season.
The Best Free Tax Software
You may think that all free tax software is the same. Not the case!
When browsing the internet, you’ll see ads by software companies that claim you can file for free using their product. Some of these programs only offer free tools for federal returns, though. You still have to pay for state tax returns.
To keep you from wasting time, we’ve only listed software that offers both federal and state returns for free. These are high-quality software that you can trust!
TurboTax Free Edition
Before we dive into TurboTax Free Edition, we want to clarify something. You may have heard about TurboTax FREEDOM Edition, which is different from the Free Edition. The FREEDOM Edition was a free tax service for people who earned under $30,000 per year and active military members who earned under $58,000 per year.
Unfortunately, the FREEDOM Edition no longer exists because the IRS recently changed some rules. While this is annoying, remember that if you’re in the military, you still receive discounts on TurboTax paid software!
Alright, now onto TurboTax Free Edition. Here’s a list of features you still receive with free filing:
- You can still import photos of your W-2 instead of typing out all the information.
- They’ll give you audit guidance. This is a huge perk for a free program.
H&R Block Free Online
Like TurboTax, H&R Block’s Free Online program is available to anyone with a simple tax situation.
- You can still snap a picture of your W-2 instead of typing in the information.
- You still have access to technical support via chat.
- When you upgrade to the Deluxe plan, you can access your tax information from the previous six years, but unfortunately, that isn’t included in the free version.
TaxAct Free Edition
TurboTax and H&R Block offer free programs for anyone filing a simple tax return. TaxAct, on the other hand, limits its free plan to people with a W-2 form.
If you need to file a 1099, you’ll need to either pay for an upgrade or go with one of the other free programs.
If these rules apply to you, you still get some good benefits with the Free Edition:
- You can still snap photos of your W-2.
- You still have a maximum refund guarantee. That may sound silly, because you’re not paying for this service. How could you receive a refund? Well, this means TaxAct will pay any difference in your lower refund or higher amount due if you got a better deal with another company. Also, TaxAct will still pay you up $100,00 for any legal costs.
Unfortunately, as with H&R Block, you can’t access previous years’ tax information with the free version.
Credit Karma Tax
You may be surprised that this one made the list. Credit Karma Tax has only been around for a few years, but it’s already made a name for itself.
The main downside is that this free software doesn’t support multiple states. If you’ve worked in more than one state this year, one of the previous options on this list will be a better fit.
Here’s what you need to know about Credit Karma Tax:
Premium Features Are Free.
If you own a home, have kids or own stocks, you’ll have to pay to upgrade with the other software on this list. Not with Credit Karma Tax! Everything is free.
It Provides Audit Defense.
If the IRS comes knocking on your door to audit you, Credit Karma has your back.
Should I Do My Own Taxes or Hire a Tax Professional?
Rugg gave us his opinion regarding when people should opt for a tax professional rather than do their own taxes.
“In my experience, there are five situations where taxpayers should consider using a professional — when they get married, when they buy a home, when they have a child, when they have investments and/or when they are self-employed,” he said.
Rugg said those circumstances all add new levels of tax considerations that might be missed by someone who isn’t a professional.
You may choose to use a tax professional every year once you’ve encountered one of these situations in your life. You don’t have to, though.
For example, the year you get married, it’s a good idea to go to a professional. However, after you talk to them and gain a better understanding of your situation, you may feel comfortable filing your own taxes after a year or two.
If you’re a single W-2 employee with no dependents or property, then there’s not really any reason to use a tax expert. In fact, you can probably just use free tax software instead of paying for either professional help or for an upgraded version of tax software.
Hopefully, with the best online tax filing software at hand, April 15 doesn’t seem so ominous to you now. Just don’t put off filing your taxes until April 14, and you’ll be fine.
Laura Grace Tarpley is a contributor to The Penny Hoardero. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.