Filing your taxes yourself has never been easier. As long as you have internet access, you can submit your tax return from the comfort of your couch. In fact, according to the IRS, 92% of tax returns were e-filed in 2017 and over 51 million were filed from home. Before you get started, however, you’ll have to choose which online tax software to trust with all your financial details. That’s not always easy.
That’s where SmartAsset comes in. We reviewed the most common tax programs available. Our analysis included a breakdown and comparison of available features such as penalty and fee guarantees and audit support, as well as a price comparison.
Best Overall Tax Software
When it comes to best overall software, there’s one that stands out above the rest: TurboTax.
TurboTax was our number one choice because it offers the most features out of all the software we reviewed, and it makes tax filing about as easy as possible. You can upload your W-2 form directly to the site and you can upload it by taking a picture of it. You receive your refund through direct deposit and there is even a mobile app. The service searches over 350 tax deductions when you file to ensure you receive the deductions and applicable credits.
It’s very easy to use and walks you through the filing process by asking a series of questions about your financial situation. The questions are interview-style and are written in plain English. Based on your answers, the software fills out the appropriate tax forms.
In terms of features, TurboTax offers free audit support and free multi-year storage. That means if you use the program year after year, your previous returns are saved on the site, saving you time and effort. The software also has extra features, tools and calculators specifically for self-employed filers and people with more complex tax returns. For example, self-employed filers get a complimentary one-year subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed. This service stores receipts and tracks miles traveled throughout the year to help maximize your business deductions.
With TurboTax there are multiple filing levels you can choose from based on what level of support you need. There’s a free option for simple returns and then tiered support depending on the complexity of your tax return and your preferences. You can even have a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA) help you for an extra cost.
While TurboTax has an easy interface and numerous feature options, it comes at a price. The company has some of the highest prices across the board for its software. The Deluxe option, the lowest level, is $39.99 for your federal return and an additional $39.99 for each state return.
For people who want a simple filing experience for a slightly lower price, consider our best software runner-up, H&R Block. It’s similar to TurboTax in many ways but has slightly less with regard to features.
Best Budget Tax Software
Fortunately, you aren’t limited to paying TurboTax’s prices. You can still find many of the features, such as a mobile app, free multi-year storage and reimbursement for penalty or interest charges with a budget option like TaxSlayer.
Choose from five filing options: Free, Classic, Premium, Self-Employed and Ultimate. TaxSlayer’s most expensive option, Ultimate, costs less than TurboTax’s second tier offering. TaxSlayer Ultimate is $86 if you include a state return ($57 for a federal return and $29 per state) while TurboTax Premier is about $100 with a state return.
TaxSlayer’s free version also allows you to file a simple tax return, much like TurboTax. One notable difference with TaxSlayer is that the Classic filing option ($17 for a federal return) gives you access to all major tax forms. Most other filing software requires you to upgrade to access certain forms. TaxSlayer does not. TaxSlayer just offers more features, like audit assistance and a guide to self-employed taxes, if you upgrade. You can read more about the available features in our TaxSlayer review.
TaxAct is runner-up for best budget software. The company offers most of the same features as TaxSlayer, but you won’t find audit support without paying a fee for Protection Plus ($44.95 for three years of coverage). It costs slightly more than TaxSlayer but is a good software that guides you through the filing process with a no-nonsense approach (meaning it offers fewer bells and whistles than a service like TurboTax or H&R Block).
These budget options may be the way to go if you have been filing for years or just feel confident filing on your own. There are fewer support features but if you don’t mind doing a bit of research online when questions arise, these services can help you save money.
If your primary goal is to save money, consider Credit Karma Tax. This service offers very few additional features and isn’t always the most user-friendly, but it will take you through the filing process just fine. Credit Karma Tax is also just a couple of years old, so it is improving a bit each year. But the best part is that it’s entirely free. There is one filing option and it includes all of the available forms and features for the low price of $0. Just note that it doesn’t support all tax situations and forms.
Best Tax Software for In-Person Filing
As mentioned above, H&R Block provides a strong online filing service for a reasonable price. It has all of the features you need plus a few bells and whistles. Another big way that it stands out is its physical locations.
If you prefer to file your return by working face-to-face with a tax professional, you simply need to walk into an H&R Block store. Other services offer online access to experts, but sometimes it’s nice to talk with someone in-person. This makes H&R Block a great option for people with complicated tax situations. (When you file in-person, you get an accuracy guarantee and audit support.) You may also consider filing at a store if your tax situation has changed greatly from last year to this year.
Whether you need a program that offers all the Schedule forms, or if you’re looking for the simplest interface, there’s an option for you. The one you ultimately buy should fit your needs. Remember, the more complicated your tax situation, the more likely it is that you’ll want a premium or deluxe option. Otherwise, you might be fine with the basic or free option. Luckily, you have plenty of choices.
Tips to Make Filing Taxes Easier
- Start gathering financial documents early. Set a deadline for when you’ll have your W-2 forms, 1099 forms, investment income information, last year’s tax refund, student loan interest and the rest of the items listed on the IRS Tax Form checklist. By breaking the intimidating task of filing your taxes into smaller chunks, you have a better chance of avoiding a last-minute marathon session to meet the filing deadline.
- Educate yourself as soon as possible about what you can and can’t deduct from your taxes. It pays to know everything you can about how taxes impact your situation in order to maximize your tax return.
- You might also consider turning to a financial advisor for tax planning services, which can ensure tax efficiency. SmartAsset’s matching tool can help you find a financial advisor in your area who can meet your planning and wealth management needs. Just answer some questions about your financial situation, and you’ll be matched with up to three advisors right in your area.
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