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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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:

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

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 .

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 .

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 .

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 .

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.

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.

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.

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