- Best Tax Software For Small Business
- Best Tax Software For Tax Preparers
- 2015 Tax software download, free
Best Tax preparation software for Mac 2018: Free and Pro Series #1: H&R Block H&R Block is the perfect platform for tax preparation if you want to save money on the return. We spent over 60 hours testing 20 personal finance apps and programs to find the best budgeting and money management tools. Our choice for the best personal finance software is Quicken Premier.It combines the best budgeting tools with easy-to-use tax reporting.
Cheapest Audit Defense
Cheapest Tax Software
How We Found the Best Online Tax Software
17 features considered
The Best Online Tax Software
Doing your taxes can feel like going to the dentist — a necessary, sometimes painful evil — but the best online tax software makes paying your dues to Uncle Sam (almost) stress-free. We looked at 21 of the most widely available providers, then narrowed it down to the four with the most intuitive interfaces and widest breadth of features.
The 4 Best Online Tax Software Programs
TurboTax - Best Range of Tools'>TurboTax - Best Range of Tools
Basic state and federal filing are free, with upgrades for deluxe filing at $60, and self-employment filing at $120. Intuitive guidance through every step of your tax filing. It’s extremely beginner-friendly by anticipating questions, offering helpful explanations, and automating processes.
TaxSlayer — Cheapest Audit Defense'>TaxSlayer — Cheapest Audit Defense
TaxSlayer's $57 Ultimate package gives you extra protection in the form of audit defense, giving you peace of mind at a lower price point than competitors. We also liked its low price for state filing when using its premium services ($29).
H&R Block - Best Customer Support'>H&R Block - Best Customer Support
Free options for standard state and federal fillings. Additional options include $40-$50 for unlimited chat with a tax pro for simple questions, or upgrade to the digital Tax Pro Review service for $60-$90 to get paired with a pro who will help complete and file your return. Impressive customer support, both in-person and digitally. The most affordable way to get expert assistance.
TaxAct - Cheapest Tax Software'>TaxAct - Cheapest Tax Software
The lowest prices and seven years of free storage. Even its premium options are more affordable than competitors', topping out at $35 for federal filing. It’s a little difficult to navigate, but worth it for a tight budget.
Online and mobile apps
Federal: $0 - $90
State: $0 - $40
Why we chose it
Online and mobile apps
TurboTax’s online app is incredibly intuitive, with large buttons and friendly, conversational text. You can upload your W-2 simply by taking a picture of it, and if your employer’s payroll provider is a TurboTax partner, you can import it directly with a few clicks. Its tablet and mobile apps are just as navigable, and you can transition seamlessly from one device to another. TurboTax has managed to make doing your taxes feel like a simple game, a breezy slideshow that might end with a fat refund check and no audit. You can live and video chat via mobile too — you won’t sacrifice any features with mobile filing.
During our testing, we loved that TurboTax didn’t push its high-priced options when we didn’t need them. Right from the start, TurboTax helps you choose the software that is best for you depending on your needs, even if it’s the free version. On its recommendation screen, we entered that we had a job, dependents, and rent payments, and it still pointed us right to the free federal 1040 option.
From there, filing with TurboTax was like having a pleasant grade-school teacher direct us through our taxes. The software is incredibly instinctive, and our testers never felt lost, thanks to ever-present help functions and guides. When providing our health insurance information, for instance, TurboTax offered detailed but straightforward explanations to help our tester figure out what type of coverage they had.
Even self-employed beginners will find unique support tool through the QuickBooks included subscription. It’s an expense-tracking feature that can store photos of your receipts and help pinpoint any transaction that may qualify as a business deductible.
We also like that TurboTax checks in to make sure you understand why your taxes are being filed in a particular way. If you aren’t 100% confident, TurboTax keeps you moving but promises to go over the information again later. TurboTax also rewards you for successes; after the completion of almost any task, even an incredibly tiny one, TurboTax is quick to give a pat on the back with an entire screen dedicated to a big thumbs up: “Great job so far!” When we’re in the throes of tax season, we’ll take any clarification and encouragement we can get (even if it’s from software).
TurboTax’s blog alone won favor for its robust guides to all things taxes — whether it’s an article on what tax brackets are or a detailed explanation of how the new tax reforms will affect you.
In its second year, the TurboTax Live service, which connects you via one-way video to a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA), is still a seamless resource. Your filing process starts with a one-on-one talk with a CPA, and you receive their continued support and advice as you go through the process. After connecting with a tax expert, you can get professional advice on maximizing your returns, and your assigned CPA or EA will even review your entire return to get as many dollars back as possible. The one downside is cost, which ranges from $50 to $170 depending on your filing status. TurboTax Live is the most expensive software packages we found, but is still cheaper than going to a tax professional.
If you don’t need help from a CPA or EA, you can also get extra help with any paid plan through SmartLook™, which connects you via one-way video to a TurboTax specialist. With this service, a specialist can help guide you through the steps of filing a return, though they won’t be able to answer tax-specific questions to maximize your return like a CPA or EA would. No matter which service you use, you’ll be able to schedule appointments anywhere from the same day to dates more than two weeks in advance, which means that even the busiest of customers can get the help they need.
Points to consider
Expensive premium plans
While TurboTax provided the best online tax filing experience we saw, it does come at a price. Like all of our picks, it offers free filing for federal and state taxes, but anything above that will cost you. Its Deluxe plan starts at $60, while the package for self-employed filers climbs to $120. In comparison, TaxAct’s paid plans start at $15, with the self-employed option costing $60. That said, it’s very possible that TurboTax’s excellent deduction tools could help you save money and file easier, even with the higher upfront price.
Affordable audit defense
An interface for the experienced
Limited free software
Confusing pricing messaging
Why we chose it
Affordable audit defense
TaxSlayer’s new Ultimate package comes with free audit defense for three years, identity protection and restoration charges. This is different from the more common audit support, which only offers assistance in gathering everything you’d need to prepare for an audit. Audit defense is a more involved process that includes representation in front of the IRS. TaxSlayer offers audit defense with its $57 package, whereas H&R Block’s $50 package only includes audit support.
An interface for the experienced
We found TaxSlayer’s interface to be clean, simple, and fairly flexible. It was easy to move through, fairly modern, and clearly labeled. We also liked that TaxSlayer let us skip around to different steps. H&R Block, on the other hand, wouldn’t let us proceed to a different step until we’d filled out the current form — even for options as mundane as a phone number. Anyone who considers themselves fairly savvy with terms and tax credits won’t have a problem navigating TaxSlayer’s software.
However, TaxSlayer couldn’t quite stand up to its competitors like TurboTax — especially because some of TaxSlayer’s form pages were pretty text-heavy. In places where TurboTax will break up and explain each section you have to fill out for a W-2 or state form, TaxSlayer will try to explain the whole form and collect the information on one page. The same philosophy applied to searching in the help menu. It’s the difference between a server at a restaurant noticing you need more napkins and bringing them to you (Turbo Tax), and a server who brings extra napkins only after you’ve asked (TaxSlayer). Both are good, but one’s more convenient.
We had the option to enter information ourselves, be a bit guided through, or skip a section.
Points to consider
Limited free software
TaxSlayer’s Simply Free version only works with 1040 filers with no dependents and only W-2 reported income. Most deductions and credits will require an upgrade to its Classic service. H&R Block’s free version is open to more tax situations and offers more perks, like snap-a-pic W-2 import and support for Schedules 1-6.
However, it’s worth noting that TaxSlayer’s one-step-up Classic version costs just $17 and is competitive with comparable offerings from TaxAct ($19) and TurboTax ($40). And adding on a state filing is just $29 at any level with TaxSlayer, which makes it the most affordable state filing for higher-tiered premium services.
Confusing pricing messaging
While our other favorites like H&R Block expressly communicated the cost of their service, TaxSlayer consistently warned us about unforeseen adjustments. In our example, below, you can see a pretty stark difference between the two messages. H&R Block is assuring us we’ll know when we need to pay more to file, while TaxSlayer is saying they don’t need to offer notice to tack on different prices. In one phase of our testing, it appeared to show us that state filing would cost us an additional $29 even though we had selected the free version. We were never charged the extra $29, but the messaging made for a confusing and stressful process.
TaxSlayer's messaging was unclear and honestly a little ominous.
H&R Block's price discussions were clearer and more reassuring.
Why we chose it
H&R Block was an easy pick for personalized customer support. When we submitted a request for instant chat, H&R Block was immediately on the line. And even though it took a few minutes to talk to someone on the phone, it was still such a short wait that we didn’t ding the company. Plus, our customer service representative was kind and patient as they walked us through pricing — without pushing paid options.
H&R Block’s calling card is a real-life, flesh-and-blood helping hand. If you’re someone who appreciates the safety net of a human being guiding you through the muck of tax jargon, H&R Block is the way to go. (Free federal filers: You don’t get in-person assistance unless you upgrade, but you can still file your return in an office.)
H&R Block offers a 1:1 digital expert service called Tax Pro Review. Essentially, clients begin their tax return online and can then choose to be paired with a tax professional who will help them complete, review, and file the return. The best part? It can be purchased as a separate service for $60 to $90 (depending on the complexity of the return) rather than as part of a $150+ package like the similar TurboTax Live. Better yet, the Tax Pro service gives you the option to choose a tax expert in your local H&R office for a face-to-face chat. And if you just need simpler support, you can opt for H&R Block’s new service, Ask a Pro for $40-$50 for unlimited chat and screen-sharing with a tax expert. They won’t deep dive into your filing specifics or optimize your return like the Tax Pro Review feature, but can still answer most all tax-related questions and guide you through the process.
In addition to Tax Pro Review, H&R Block is rolling out a service called Tax Pro Go, which starts at $60 and matches consumers with a digital tax professional. Clients simply have to upload their documents, and the professional will take care of the rest. This is more hands-off than the other support options, which mostly offer professional advice while you still complete the filing. Better still, the return will be sent to clients within five days for approval. The offer sounds tempting — a lot of tax software, including TurboTax, starts around $60, while still requiring you to do most of the heavy lifting.
Points to consider
H&R Block’s software uses a simple design with straightforward progression, with logical checklists that show you how far you’ve come and how much is still ahead. The checklist might be a little too restrictive for some, though. You can’t skip around to different sections or even preview them to see what’s in store. If you try, you’ll be greeted by harsh red text that lets you know you haven’t finished the step you’re on yet. Not so fast, tax filer.
Lack of clarifying information
At times, H&R Block’s software also fails to predict common questions. For example, our tester wasn’t sure what to do when filling out their employment information — they had three jobs in the past year, which was one more than the allotted space on H&R’s online form. Under the “Need Help?” banner, H&R Block’s system drew a blank. Even though TurboTax only offered space for a single job, it still predicted the confusion and provided an explanation, reassuring our tester that the software wouldn’t forget extra income.
H&R Block's 'Need Help?' banner left us craving more.
Free access to returns for seven years
Why we chose it
If you want to get in and out of your return as inexpensively as possible, TaxAct is the way to go. Even its Premium option is cheaper than that of competitors, maxing out at $35 (with an additional $37 per state filing). It also has a PriceLock guarantee, a not-so-subtle dig at competitors like TurboTax, which notoriously charges for add-on features after you’ve started your return.
Free access to returns for seven years
Additionally, we loved how TaxAct users can access their tax returns for seven years — even when using the free version of the software. TurboTax charges a whopping $50 per return for this feature, while H&R Block only lets you go back three years.
Points to consider
Hard to navigate
Though TaxAct has updated its interface since last year, it still isn’t nearly as interactive or enjoyable to use as our other top picks. We initially liked the no-frills nature of its simple, text-heavy screens, but it made the process feel monotonous after a while. At times, the amount of text makes the process more difficult to navigate — when compared with the large, scannable tools of TurboTax, it can be hard to find the information you’re looking for. The software didn’t take as many opportunities to inform or guide us.
There were also a few times in our testing that a calculation was made without us being informed. It got us to the same bottom line, but in the meantime, we were confused about what had suddenly changed our totals.
Limited state tax filing
Best Tax Software For Small Business
The software’s limited e-filing of state taxes might also be a deal breaker for some users. The software is missing key forms that make it ineligible for e-filing in some states: It doesn’t have 1041, 1065, 1120, and 1120S for every state. To be fair, forms 1120 and 1120S are for corporations, and most corporations won’t use simple consumer tax software to file. Regardless, if you have a small business, you probably don’t want to file with TaxAct.
Guide to Online Tax Software
How to protect yourself when filing taxes online
A common way for identity thieves to make cash is by filing fake tax returns based on stolen information before you have the chance to submit the return yourself. In 2013, the IRS prevented about $24.2 billion in attempted fraud but ended up paying an estimated $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds. Online tax software companies insist that it’s not the products that are insecure, it’s that identity thieves are getting better. To avoid any surprises, file as early as you can — before identity thieves do it for you.
You can take steps to add security on your end, too. Keep clear of phishy emails; shred old tax documents; don’t file your tax info over unsecured wireless networks. The IRS puts out a list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams every year, and it’s worth taking a look early in tax season. If you really want to up your peace of mind, check out our review of the best identity theft protection services.
Use a unique password
For every financial website you’re using, we strongly recommend you choose a unique password. While that can get hard to keep track of, you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to filing your taxes online. If an identity thief somehow obtains your Facebook password, you don’t want that to open the door to your tax returns as well.
Watch out for suspicious phone calls
Unfortunately, the IRS has seen a rise in phone scams in recent years where the callers impersonate IRS agents and try to get victims to pay exorbitant tax bills through wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. Some scams have even gotten so sophisticated that caller IDs show legitimate IRS numbers. Don’t fall for it. The IRS will always send a bill in the mail first, and it will never threaten to bring in police for an unpaid bill. If you think you might have an outstanding debt to the IRS, just call directly at 800-829-1040.
Online Tax Software FAQ
All of our top picks beefed up their security in 2019. In addition to asking for your password, they now require you to answer personal questions that are harder for a stranger to get right, like, “What is the name of your third-grade teacher?” TurboTax goes a step further by sending a six-digit verification number to your phone or email whenever you login.
The Free File Alliance is a nonprofit collection of 12 tax software companies that agreed to partner with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and provide free filing for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. The Free File versions give you access to more forms than you’ll find in a software company’s standard free option.
To be eligible for Free File preparation, the government mandates that your adjusted gross income be $64,000 or less. However, companies are allowed to make the same cutoff even lower for their individual versions of Free File software — the cutoff for TurboTax’s is $33,000. In fact, as long as they don’t exceed the government’s cutoff, each participating software company can set its own eligibility requirements, which can be found on an IRS-sponsored list.
Free File Alliance software isn’t available until January, but could be worth a look for many; at the last estimate, 70% of all taxpayers would qualify. When the software is available, you’ll see a “Start Now” button on the IRS Free File site to review the list of participating companies, and you must start the process on the IRS site in order to ensure you don’t pay fees. For those who may need more free forms than a 1040, it’s definitely worth a look.
At the beginning of November 2017, a bill called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed. There are some significant changes that will impact your 2018 taxes that you’re filing in 2019.
To start, whether you’re single or married, it’s likely that you’ll be paying a lower federal tax rate next year. The bill nearly doubles the standard deduction as well (increasing to $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly). To make up for these cuts, personal exemptions (currently $4,050 per dependent) will be completely eliminated, and you’ll be unable to fully deduct state and local taxes, so some households in high-tax states could end up paying more.
There are many more changes we broke down in our Guide to 2019 Tax Changes. We recommend using a tax calculator to estimate next year’s changes.
The Best Online Tax Software: Summed Up
Our Other Financial Service Reviews
Filing your taxes is only step one on the road to healthy finances. Check out some of our other financial service reviews here:
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What a year it's been for the IRS! The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act triggered many changes in the tax code, as well as the issuance of several new forms. The 1040A and 1040EZ are gone, and the new 1040-for-all form is much abbreviated. There are six new schedules. All these changes for 2018 returns have kept accounting professionals and tax preparation software providers busy, to say the least.
Now it's your turn. Personal tax preparation websites are up and running, and the IRS is finally accepting returns (barring further government shutdowns). It's time to think about gathering up all your tax documents and plugging your numbers into a tax site, which thirty-seven pecent of you do for yourselves, according to a recent PCMag survey.
If you're still doing your taxes manually—using paper forms, calculator, and pencil—you should really consider moving the process online. Our survey showed that (at least among people with enough computer savvy to take an online survey) only 10 percent of you were doing your taxes manually, and only half of those people were sending your taxes in via snail mail (the rest e-filing with the IRS directly). For those holdouts among you, new laws and new forms are complicating what was already a complex activity. They might even help you get a bigger tax refund!
A Smooth Transition
With all the changes that have occurred, what will you find when you log into H&R Block, TurboTax, TaxAct, or any of the other websites whose developers have been planning for the end of January 2019 for 13 months?
If you've used a personal tax preparation website or desktop software before and you go back to that same product this year, you're not going to notice much of a difference. Every site we reviewed this year has made improvements, some more than others. But they're the usual modifications—user interface tweaks and enhancements to support resources and changes to prices and product lineups.
For the most part, this year's crop of contenders looks and works much as it did for the 2017 tax year. What's going on in the background as your tax data is calculated and rerouted to accommodate the new laws and forms, though, is very different. The companies that make today's leading tax sites worked extra hard in 2018—so that you don't have to in 2019.
What the New Tax Law Means for You
You've probably heard about at least some of the changes you'll be seeing for the 2018 tax year resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. There are two that are likely to affect you the most. First is the lowering of individual tax rates. There are still seven brackets, but they've all been reduced. You'll be taxed at rates of 10, 12, 22, 24 32, 35, or 37 percent. Second, the standard deduction has been nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers; $18,000 for heads of household; and $24,000 for joint filers.
Congress did eliminate the personal exemption, but positive changes to the Child Tax Credit may make up for at least part of this loss. If your medical and dental expenses made up more than 7.5 percent of your AGI (adjusted gross income) in tax year 2018, you'll be able to deduct them (the minimum was previously 10 percent).
It's not all good news for individual taxpayers, though. The tax reform law has placed a new limit on the deduction for state and local taxes. If you're paying home mortgage interest, you'll no longer be able to deduct it if your home is worth more than $750,000. Interest on home equity loans and lines of credit isn't deductible anymore, either, unless they're used to, '…buy, build, or substantially approve the taxpayer's home that secures the loan,' according to the IRS.
Those are just a few of the highlights of the new tax law. For more details on what it means for your tax-preparation and filing procedures, read Filing Your Taxes Isn't Simpler This Year: Here's What You Need to Know.
How Online Tax Software Works
When you prepare your income taxes using paper forms, you spend a lot of time shuttling back and forth between them. You come to a line on the 1040 that requires a supporting form or schedule, so you go there and complete it, and then transfer the number back to the 1040. Sometimes you'll need to fill out a worksheet or chase down a document you got in the mail or double-check your calculations because things just don't look right. You may have to do this many times if your return has any complexity.
Tax websites work much differently. Once you create an account and comply with the site's security requirements, you can stop worrying about which forms you need and whether your calculations are correct. You also won't need to worry about how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is going to affect your return. That's all taken care of for you in the background.
When you use a digital tax preparation solution, you're really just filling out a giant questionnaire. These sites work like giant wizards: They ask questions on every page, and you respond by providing answers. You enter information in blank fields, select the correct option from a list, or click a button. When you've satisfied all the requirements of a screen, you move on to the next and complete that. You never have to see an actual IRS form or schedule (though in some cases, you can if you want to).
You'll probably recognize the path you're taking. It's patterned after the order of the IRS Form 1040. You provide contact information first, including Social Security number(s) and birthdate(s), and then move on to your income, deductions, credits, health insurance status, and taxes paid. When you've exhausted all the topics that apply to you and seen a summary of your entries, these sites review your return and highlight errors or omissions you might have made.
After you've cleaned them all up, the software transfers your tax data to any state returns you must file. Once you've answered miscellaneous questions there and checked your entire return, you're asked to pay the service's fees (if there are any). Finally, you can file your return electronically and print it out. After that's done, don't forget to use a good shredder on those documents once you're done.
The Tax Software Interface and Process
Along the way, personal tax preparation websites provide a lot of support for you. After all, how helpful would they be if they just displayed replicas of the actual IRS forms and schedules on the screen and asked you to fill them in using the IRS instructions?
Instead, some of these solutions, such as H&R Block and TurboTax, provide state-of-the-art user experiences. They're designed to makes what is an unpleasant task more palatable. They use color, graphics, design, and layout to present screens that are lively and attractive, rather than dull and lifeless like the actual forms.
The step-by-step data entry path that they provide generally works quite well—as long as you work your way through your whole return without a lot of backing up or lurching forward. Jackson Hewitt Online asks whether you'd like to complete your 1040 by using its comprehensive interview; this option takes you through the entire process in one long Q&A session. It asks you about every tax topic that might possibly apply to you.
The other alternative, one that every online service offers, involves selecting the topics that apply to you. You choose these from the lists they provide for income, deductions, credits, and taxes. When you select one, these sites walk you through mini-interviews to get the information they need. Then they return you to the main list to choose another topic, and so on, until you're finished.
All of the sites we reviewed are a hybrid of these two approaches. The point is, all you have to do is read what's on the screen and follow its instructions. You spend most of your time responding to questions and clicking links to advance to the next screen or using the site-wide navigation tool. These sites are good guides, most of the time.
Speaking Your Language
If you've ever filed a tax return, you know it can be a challenge to understand the IRS's language on its forms and schedules. Turning to the written instructions sometimes doesn't help much. They're quite comprehensive—so comprehensive, in fact, that it's often hard to find the answer to your exact question. When you do find it, the language, again, can be difficult to decipher.
Best Tax Software For Tax Preparers
From their earliest days, personal tax software developers have sought to interpret IRS-ese and make it more understandable to the non-accountant. They've written and rewritten their content so that the average taxpayer can understand what's being requested. Further, sites like TaxAct do more. For example, they provide hyperlinks to small help windows that further explain a term or phrase. They anticipate questions you might ask and post Q&As on especially complex topics. They try to ensure that you understand the question being asked so that you'll provide the correct answer.
More Tax Help Needed?
Sometimes, though, a friendly, understandable user experience and clarification of the content displayed on screens isn't enough. So tax websites provide online assistance. Some, including H&R Block, provide context-sensitive explanations in panes attached to the main working area.
In some cases, this guidance isn't available until you click a Help link. And sometimes when you do that, you have access to a giant database of questions and answers. You may be directed to IRS instructions and publications on a few sites, but usually the technical content has been rewritten to make it understandable.
What do you do if your efforts to find help on the site itself fail? You might have one of several types of questions: The first goes something like, 'Where do I enter the information that's on this paper form I got?' Or, 'The site won't let me advance to the next page. What did I do wrong?' Or, simply, 'I'm stuck. I can't find my way back to the screen where I enter mortgage interest information.'
All sites offer at least one of three ways to contact the company's technical support representatives: by email, phone, and or chat. TaxSlayer, for example, offers all three. Some, like H&R Block, offer online communities where you can see if your problem has already been addressed by someone else.
These technical support representatives cannot advise you on points of tax law, though. So some offer to hook you up with an accounting professional. Though you'll pay extra fees, you'll get the most innovative, most comprehensive guidance if you use TurboTax. Its TurboTax Live offering connects you with a CPA or EA (Enrolled Analyst) via live video chat, not just during tax season but year-round. H&R Block users can add unlimited, on-demand screen-sharing and chat sessions with a tax expert for an added fee that starts at $39.99, and customers of TaxAct Deluxe and above receive unlimited phone support from tax specialists.
2015 Tax software download, free
Are There Any Free Tax Services?
Prices for this year's tax websites range from free to over $100. It turns out that you can get a lot for free. According to our tax survey, seventeen percent of you use free services, in fact. Twenty percent of you use paid software. Every company whose website we reviewed (except Liberty Tax Online) offers a version that costs nothing to prepare and file your federal taxes. All support the new Form 1040 and assume you'll be taking the standard deduction. You can record—or import, in some cases—your W-2 data in all of them.
Each goes even further than that in some ways. H&R Block is the most generous in its free offerings among the normally paid services. Block supports retirement plan and Social Security income, child care expenses and child tax credit, the Earned Income Credit (EIC), and student loan interest. TaxAct, too, allows retirement income, while TurboTax lets you report limited interest and dividend income, the EIC, and child tax credits. Using TaxSlayer, you can enter your student loan interest and education credits. And Jackson Hewitt's free edition will prepare and file the EIC, unemployment, interest income, and up to $100,000 taxable income.
Two of the online tax services we reviewed are free (or nearly free): Credit Karma Tax and FreeTaxUSA. Both support all major IRS forms and schedules. FreeTaxUSA costs nothing unless you need to file a state return; that will cost $12.95. You can also buy enhanced support for $6.99. Credit Karma Tax is the only personal tax preparation website that is totally free, for both federal and state.
Not for Everyone
The eight personal tax preparation websites we reviewed are capable of producing very complex tax returns. You'll pay more if you need more forms and schedules to complete (we reviewed the most popular versions, which in some cases were not the most robust), but the tools are there for advanced topics like self-employment, depreciation, rental income, and capital gains.
If you're not comfortable with your own ability to complete a complicated tax return but still want to give it a shot, you can go with a site like H&R Block. The company offers DIY preparation and filing, of course. But if you get partway through and realize you're not sure of some tax issues, you can have an H&R Block tax professional review your return, complete it, and sign it.
If you're so uncomfortable with taxes that you've procrastinated a bit too much, we have some suggestions for you. Our article Tax Tips for Last-Minute E-Filers is for the one in seven of you who wait till the tax deadline has nearly arrived.
Stay Safe, Protect Your Privacy
Whenever you're going to be sending sensitive information over a network you don't control, you should be concerned. Since taxes are nothing but sensitive data, you ought to be doubly concerned if you're filing from a coffee shop, say, or the airport. About half of you get this, it seems, as our tax survey shows that 47 percent of those who use online tax software are concerned about their data being compromised.
Fortunately, protecting your traffic is as simple as using a VPN. A VPN can create a secure tunnel that encrypts your data, ensuring that anyone who manages to intercept it sees only gibberish.
No amount of security software can keep you safe if you fall for a telephone, email, or in-person tax scam, however. Scammers often rely on you to simply tell them what they want to know, instead of by getting it out of your computer with malware. Instead, they simply pretend to be someone, say the IRS, who you'd likely believe might have a reason to be inquiring, and ask you for your secret information or for payments on imaginary fees you supposedly owe. Read our piece on how to protect yourself from tax-season scams and save yourself money and heartache.
What Is the Easiest Tax Software to Use?
If this is the first time you've ever considered tackling this project yourself, we recommend H&R Block, our Editor's Choice, this year. TurboTax has won this award numerous times in the past, and it also remains an exceptional family of digital tax products. H&R Block, though, has improved its website in numerous ways since last year. It offers a more state-of-the-art user experience, with exceptionally accessible, understandable guidance. That support and guidance makes a complex process easy—or at least easier. It's fast, it's a great value, it's built on decades of tax knowledge, and it's the best for the 2018 tax year.
Note that H&R Block wins for the best desktop software. If you're going to fill out your taxes on your mobile device—yes, that's right, you can do your taxes on your phone—you'll want to try out Intuit's TurboTax Return App, which is our number one choice for mobile tax filing thanks to its excellent interface and accessible, innovative help options.
While you're thinking about your financial situation and you have all your documents about you, we suggest that you also take a look at our roundup of the best personal finance services. The best day to start a budget is yesterday, but today isn't bad, either. If you're a business owner, it's also a good time to make sure your books are in order. Our overview of small business accounting software is an excellent place to get started.
Best Tax Preparation Software Featured in This Roundup:
H&R Block Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Excellent user experience. Clear navigation. Comprehensive coverage of tax topics. Top help tools. Thorough return review.
Cons: Lacks linear navigation wizard and all-in-one step-through of topics.
Bottom Line: H&R Block Deluxe is a comprehensive, easy-to-use tax service that helps e-filers claim relevant deductions and credits. The site is much improved, both in terms of the user experience and help options. It's our top choice for online tax preparation.Read Review
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Excellent user experience and selection of tax topics. Thorough interview and final review. TurboTax Live provides year-round live video support from experts.
Cons: Some answers in help database supplied by nonexpert users. Location of help topics uneven; help pane usually not context-sensitive.
Bottom Line: TurboTax Deluxe offers thorough explorations of tax forms and schedules, and an exceptional user experience to both new and returning taxpayers, but it's help system could be better.Read Review
TaxSlayer Classic 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Inexpensive. Supports all major IRS forms and schedules. W-2 import from providers. Email and phone help. Good knowledge base.
Cons: Weak context-sensitive help. Unrefined user experience. Tax-return review not effective in testing. Mobile apps are incomplete.
Bottom Line: TaxSlayer Classic is an affordable tax preparation service that gets a little better every year, but its context-sensitive help is still subpar and its user interface lacks polish.Read Review
FreeTaxUSA Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Fast. Free federal e-filing. Inexpensive state filing. Comprehensive site outline. Flexible navigation. Context-sensitive help. Excellent mobile experience.
Cons: No start-to-finish interview option. No Life Events feature. Can't import W-2s or 1099s.
Bottom Line: FreeTaxUSA is a robust online personal tax preparation service that lets you e-file federal tax returns for free, though you have to pay modest fees for state filing and extra support.Read Review
TaxAct Deluxe Plus 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Good navigation tools. Solid user interface. Phone and email help. Thorough review process. Price guarantee. Good mobile experience.
Cons: Some help links lead directly to IRS documents. Expensive per-state filing. Some tax topics moved into pricier tiers.
Bottom Line: TaxAct competently supports online tax preparation for both new and experienced users. Though its interface is vastly improved this year, H&R Block and TurboTax are still easier to use.Read Review
Credit Karma Tax 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Free. Supports most IRS and state forms and schedules. Clean, simple interface. New guidance options. Much improved mobile access. Context-sensitive FAQs and chat help.
Cons: Missing some important forms. Search tool not always accurate, and overall support still sketchy. No site navigation tool.
Bottom Line: The completely free Credit Karma Tax supports most IRS forms and schedules for federal and state returns, though it lacks some common ones. Support and mobile access have improved, but it has a ways to go to catch the leaders.Read Review
Liberty Tax Online Basic 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Simple user experience. Innovative navigation pane. Excellent review process. Smart credit finder.
Cons: No consistent context-sensitive help. No hyperlinked terms in Q&A. Expensive state returns. Awkward mobile versions.
Bottom Line: Liberty Tax is a decent service from the well-known brick-and-mortar tax preparers. It's easy enough to use but lacks well-integrated, accessible guidance and its interface is dated.Read Review
Jackson Hewitt Online 2019 (Tax Year 2018) Review
Pros: Good coverage of tax topics. Comprehensive interview option. Background bookkeeping. Good error-checking. Good mobile version.
Cons: Amount and quality of context-sensitive help is lacking. User experience not on a par with competitors. Some navigation quirks. Expensive.
Bottom Line: Online tax service Jackson Hewitt can get the job done, but it's expensive, especially considering its subpar user interface and help system. There are better choices, for less money.Read Review