Best Tax Software 2021

We've tested some of the most widely used tax-preparation software packages to help you choose one right for you.

Tina OremMar 31, 2021
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Taxes are confusing enough without the added stress of figuring out which tax software is the best tax software. So we did the research to help you choose the ideal option to file taxes online. We focused on well-known and widely used tax preparation software, and while the tax code is the tax code, there’s a crucial difference between paying for what you could use and paying for stuff you don’t need.

Best tax software: Providers we reviewed

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $60 to $120, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $49.99 to $109.99, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $24.95 to $54.95, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes, with more restrictions.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $44.95 to $79.95, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

Promotion: Get 25% off federal and state filing costs.


A quick note on how to choose tax software ...

There are many software providers out there, and each one offers different packages for different taxpayers. When choosing, it's likely most helpful to start with your individual needs.


Best software for simple returns

H&R Block Free

Typically, you have a "simple tax return” if all of your income is from your job (rather than from interest, dividends or other sources), and you claim the standard deduction instead of itemize.

If that sounds like you, you may not need tax software built for crazy-complicated tax situations. And when it comes to tax prep software that can do simple returns at a reasonable price without sacrificing user-friendliness, we think H&R Block Free stands out from the crowd.

FREE EDITION

$0 (federal) | $0 (state)

What H&R Block Free can do: 1040 and schedules 1 & 3, income from wages (W-2), income from bank interest (1099-INT) and dividends (1099-DIV), student loan interest (1098-E).

What it can’t do: Itemized deductions (Schedule A), deductions and expenses from freelance or self-employed work (Schedule C), HSA distributions (1099-SA).

Like the free tax software from most of its competitors, H&R Block Free lets you file Form 1040. But H&R Block’s free version also lets you file schedules 1 and 3, which is a big bonus because many taxpayers need to file those forms to report things such as business income, alimony, certain retirement contributions, the credit for dependent care expenses, the Lifetime Learning Credit or the Saver’s Credit. You may need to upgrade if you don't know how much to claim for those things and want the software to calculate it for you.

Also, if you plan to itemize deductions, were a landlord, freelanced or ran a small business or had any other situations going on, you’ll probably need to upgrade to one of H&R Block’s paid packages.

H&R Block’s interface is visually simple, straightforward and easy to use, and it steps up to explain concepts as you go. Skipping around to specific spots can be a little tricky, but a banner across the top keeps track of where you stand in the filing process.

Free tax software packages at a glance

FREE

Federal: $0

State: $0

FREE

Federal: $0

State: $0

FREE

Federal: $0 State: $34.95

SIMPLY FREE

Federal: $0

State: $0

Key forms supported:

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

  • Schedules 1 & 3.

Key forms supported:

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

Key forms supported:

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

Key forms supported:

  • Form 1040 (two pages).

  • Income, filing limits apply.

Nerdy tip: If your tax situation is more complicated, don’t despair — you still might be able to get free tax software from most of these software providers through the IRS' Free File program if your adjusted gross income for 2020 was less than $72,000.

Best software for ease of use

TurboTax

With its intuitive design and experience and variety of support options, TurboTax is in many ways the standard for the do-it-yourself tax-prep industry.

EASE OF USE

Prices: $60 to $120, plus state costs.

What we like: TurboTax’s software feels like an interview with a tax preparer who knows just what to ask and how best to guide you.

What makes it easy to use? — Interview-style Q&A experience.

— Wide range of functionality and tools makes entering information easy.

— Help is easy to access, and explanations are clear and authoritative.

TurboTax’s interface is like a chat with a tax preparer. You can skip around if you need to, and a banner running along the side keeps track of where you stand in the process and flags areas you still need to complete. Embedded links throughout the process offer tips, explainers and other resources. And help buttons can connect you to the searchable knowledge base, on-screen help and more.

Notable handy features include import capabilities that let you switch to TurboTax from another provider, auto-import certain tax documents, a donation calculator and the ability to access and work on your return across devices. All of this comes at a price, and similar offerings from competitors this year may provide a better value.


More about tax-software providers

If you don't know what you need — or how much you need to pay for — it might help to examine the providers individually and what sort of experience each one offers. Here are a few areas to dig into:

  • User experience: Software that feels like an interview — asking questions about your income and any live events that might allow for deductions — offers more guidance than a basic fill-in-the-blank process. The ability to import forms like a W-2 is better than having to manually type in numbers.

  • Support options: Most tax software offers a searchable FAQ section or knowledge base, and some offer video tutorials or user forums to help answer questions. One recent differentiator has been one-on-one help from a human tax pro, live on your screen. Depending on the provider, these pros might be able to give you tax advice or review your whole tax return before you file. (This sort of help comes with an extra charge.) Audits are unlikely for most taxpayers, but if you think you’re at risk and want to purchase protection, you should understand what your software provides.

  • Availability of tax forms: If you find a provider that excels in the areas above, you then want to choose their package that covers all the tax forms and schedules you need.

Here's a look at some top tax-software providers and what using them is like.

TurboTax

FREE

PREMIER

DELUXE

SELF-EMPLOYED

Quick facts

  • User-friendly, interview-style Q&A.

  • Live, on-screen support option offers human help at extra cost.

  • Some of the most expensive software on the market.

TurboTax is generally pricier than everything else out there, but even though confident filers may not need all the bells and whistles that most TurboTax online products offer, many people will find the experience and the availability of human help worth the extra cost. We’ve long praised TurboTax for its design and flow.

» Learn more in our TurboTax review.

H&R Block

FREE

PREMIUM

DELUXE

SELF-EMPLOYED

Quick facts

  • Straightforward interface that’s easy to use.

  • Free version is an option for more people than competing free versions.

  • Access to tax pros on demand at an added cost.

H&R Block’s software is a solid contender in the crowded market for tax software. Though it’s not the most expensive of the tax software providers we reviewed, H&R Block online tax software isn’t the cheapest either. Still, its free version is one of the best on the market, the interface is straightforward and easy to use and on-screen help from a human is available for an extra cost.

» Learn more in our H&R Block review.

TaxAct

FREE

PREMIER

DELUXE

SELF-EMPLOYED

Quick facts

  • Generally less expensive than similar TurboTax and H&R Block options. (And NerdWallet users can save 25% on federal and state filing costs.)

  • New human-support options available at an extra cost.

  • Free version has a fee for state returns.

TaxAct is less well-known among tax software providers, but it offers quality online software that generally costs far less than TurboTax or H&R Block. It may not be as fancy in some ways, but you can get on-demand, on-screen access to a tax pro like the other guys offer, and the data-entry process is similar to most of the competition. And TaxAct’s prices are hard to ignore.

» Learn more in our TaxAct review.

TaxSlayer

SIMPLY FREE

PREMIUM

CLASSIC

SELF-EMPLOYED

Quick facts

  • Prices are based on level of support rather than level of functionality.

  • A bargain compared with bigger-name competitors.

  • Fewer real-time support options — especially face-to-face ones — than some competitors offer.

TaxSlayer's pricing model sets it apart: The company charges according to the level of support you want, rather than according to a software package’s capabilities. In other words, the cheapest paid package handles all the same tax situations and forms that the most expensive package handles — what changes is how much help you can get. Translation: If you’re a confident tax filer and don’t need a lot of support, you could save a lot of money with TaxSlayer.

» Learn more in our TaxSlayer review.

Paid tax software packages at a glance

If you want to take tax breaks for things like owning a home or deduct state and local taxes

DELUXE

Federal: $49.99 State: $44.99

DELUXE

Federal: $60

State: $50

DELUXE

Federal: $44.95 State: $54.95

CLASSIC

Federal: $24.95 State: $39.95

If you want to report income and losses on investments or rental property

PREMIUM

Federal: $69.99 State: $44.99

PREMIER

Federal: $90

State: $50

PREMIER

Federal: $69.95 State: $54.95

PREMIUM

Federal: $44.95 State: $39.95 (Classic works here too, just with less support.)

If you are self-employed

SELF-EMPLOYED

Federal: $109.99 State: $44.99

SELF-EMPLOYED

Federal: $120

State: $50

SELF-EMPLOYED

Federal: $79.95 State: $54.95

SELF-EMPLOYED

Federal: $54.95 State: $39.95 (Classic and Premium work here too, just with less support.)


Live help online from a tax pro

Many of us have had to learn to do more and more things online last year. Working with a tax pro can be another one. Indeed, even before "coronavirus" was a thing, some providers had an option to work on your tax return with a human tax preparer onscreen.

This year, providers are upping their offerings of live help from a tax pro while you prepare your return.

KEY FEATURES

  • Unlimited, on-demand chat, phone or screen sharing.

  • You can see the tax pro; they see only your screen.

  • Tax pro will not review, sign or e-file your return for you.

PRICES

Basic $69.99 (federal) | $39.99 (state)

Deluxe $109.99 (federal) | $44.99 (state)

Premium $159.99 (federal) | $44.99 (state)

Self-Employed $194.99 (federal) | $44.99 (state)

KEY FEATURES

  • Unlimited live tax advice, and one-on-one review before you file.

  • You can see tax pro; they see only your screen.

  • Tax pro will sign and e-file your tax return if you want.

PRICES

Basic $80 (federal) | $45 (state)

Deluxe $120 (federal) | $55 (state)

Premier $170 (federal) | $55 (state)

Self-Employed $200 (federal) | $55 (state)

KEY FEATURES

  • Unlimited live tax advice, and one-on-one review before you file.

  • You can see tax pro; they see only your screen.

PRICES

Free $65 (federal) | $34.95 (state)

Deluxe $94.95 (federal) | $54.95 (state)

Premier $134.95 (federal) | $54.95 (state)

Self-Employed $159.95 (federal) | $54.95 (state)

H&R Block also has Tax Pro Review, a one-on-one review of your completed return for accuracy and possible missed tax breaks. The tax pro will sign and e-file for you if you want.


When you want to ditch the software and just hire someone

If you don't want fuss with tax software (or taxes at all, for that matter), there's another option that generally involves uploading your tax documents to a portal and having a human tax pro take it from there.

Prices and services vary, but here are some options.

KEY FEATURES

  • Drop your documents off at the front desk.

  • 15-minute in-person appointments available, or meet via phone, video, or chat.

  • Review, approve and sign your return through the MyBlock app or stop by office.

PRICES

  • Start at $69.99 (federal) | state extra

KEY FEATURES

  • Upload your tax forms.

  • Check on the progress of your return at any time.

  • Schedule a return summary to go over your taxes before filing.

PRICES

Basic $140 (federal) | $45 (state)

Deluxe $210 (federal) | $55 (state)

Premier $270 (federal) | $55 (state)

Self-Employed $300 (federal) | $55 (state)

EY TAX CHAT

KEY FEATURES

  • Answer questions to get a quote and get matched with a tax pro.

  • Talk with a tax pro via phone or online chat.

  • Mobile app available.

PRICES

  • Start at $199 for a federal return and $60 for state return.

PICNIC TAX

KEY FEATURES

  • Answer questions to get a quote and get matched with a tax pro.

  • Talk with a tax pro via online messaging system; you get an email alert if your tax pro messages you.

  • Pay via Stripe.

PRICES

  • Start at $150 for a federal return.