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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.
TaxAct’s products are generally less expensive than similar products from TurboTax and H&R Block. And price is an important factor, especially for people who need advanced tax software, which can run $100 or more elsewhere when you factor in the price of preparing a state return.
What you get from TaxAct's free version
TaxAct's free version lets you file a Form 1040, but it can’t itemize or handle schedules 1, 2 or 3, which means it probably won’t work if you plan to do things such as deduct student loan interest, deduct mortgage interest, report business or freelance income, or report stock sales or income from a rental property.
Also, "free" isn't necessarily free: filing a state return carries a small charge.
Available packages and list prices
• Federal: $0 • State: $4.95
This option allows you to file a 1040, but you can’t itemize or file schedules 1-3, and there’s a charge for the state return. Generally, it works only for people who don’t plan to claim any deductions or credits other than the standard deduction, the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit.
• Federal: $24.95 ($74.95 with Xpert Help) • State: $44.95
This version lets you itemize and claim several other tax deductions and tax credits. If you’re an investor, a landlord or filing a Schedule C (for freelancers or small-business owners), you’ll need to upgrade.
• Federal: $34.95 ($94.95 with Xpert Help) • State: $44.95
If you need to report investments or own rental property, this is the package for you (it supports Schedules D and E).
• Federal: $64.95 ($139.95 with Xpert Help) • State: $44.95
TaxAct’s highest-end version for online filers is for freelancers and the self-employed. It comes with a tool for finding and maximizing business deductions.
One note about prices: Providers frequently change them. We’ll keep updating this review, but you can verify the latest price by clicking through to TaxAct's site. TaxAct also offers desktop software, where your return doesn’t reside in the cloud, but it’s not part of our review.
TaxAct's ease of use
What it looks like
TaxAct has a similar look and feel to competitors’ products, with an interview process guiding you through it. You can skip around more easily than most, and as with other software packages, a banner running down the side keeps track of how far along you are.
Embedded links throughout offer tips, explainers and other resources, and the help center links to a searchable knowledge base.
A shopping-cart icon at the top tells you which package you’re buying, whether you’ve also selected add-ons and how much your total software bill is so far.
You can switch from another provider: TaxAct will import last year’s return from TurboTax or H&R Block, but only if it’s a PDF, and you can only bring over your 1040 (rather than all the supporting forms and schedules that probably go with it).
Auto-import of certain tax documents: You can import W-2s or take a photo and upload them via the app, and with paid versions you can upload 1099-B information from your broker if you have it in a spreadsheet (a CSV file). All of this lets you avoid spending time keying in numbers from little boxes.
Donation calculator: The Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed packages all incorporate TaxAct’s Donation Assistant, which is helpful for quickly finding the deduction value of donated clothes, household items and other objects.
Platform mobility: Because the software is online, you can log in from other devices if you’re working on your return here and there. There is a mobile app available.
TaxAct's support options
Here's a look at the various ways you can find answers and get guidance when filing your return with TaxAct.
Ways to get help
General guidance: Searchable knowledge base.
Tech support: Free tech support by email or phone.
One-on-one tax help: Access to live, on-screen tax advice from a tax pro if you purchase TaxAct’s Xpert Help service.
TaxAct's most notable support offering this year is the introduction of Xpert Help, which gets you unlimited, screen-sharing access to a tax expert. You can ask for help on demand or, in some states, schedule a call. TaxAct says its tax pros are CPAs, enrolled agents or other tax specialists.
Although some consumers may not need or want the on-screen support experience that’s becoming more prevalent in the tax software business, others might find TaxAct’s lower price point a good avenue to test the service out.
If you're audited
Getting audited is scary, so it’s important to know what kind of support you’re getting from your tax software. First, be sure you know the difference between “support” and “defense.” With most providers, audit support (or “assistance”) typically means guidance about what to expect and how to prepare — that’s it. Audit defense, on the other hand, gets you full representation before the IRS from a tax professional.
TaxAct’s audit assistance consists of a FAQ page on its website. But customers can buy audit defense from a partner company called Protection Plus for $49.95. Coverage includes three years of audit services for this year’s return, and TaxAct says the product will guide you through the audit process, handle IRS and state correspondence on your behalf, help with tax debt and provide tax fraud assistance.
If you're getting a refund
No matter how you file, you can choose to receive your refund several ways:
A direct deposit to a bank account is the fastest option. You can also have it loaded onto an American Express Serve prepaid debit card (if you’re getting a refund on your state taxes, see if your state offers a prepaid card option as well) or sent as a paper check.
Other options include applying the refund to next year’s taxes, or directing the IRS to buy U.S. savings bonds with your refund.
You have the option of paying for the software out of your refund. But there’s a $17.99 charge to do that.
How TaxAct compares
Pricing On the higher end.
Ease of use Q&A user flow is one of the best.
Support options Live video help from a tax pro, online FAQ.
Pricing On the higher end.
Ease of use Clear and helpful interface.
Support options Live video help from a tax pro, online FAQ, 11,000 locations.
Pricing Good value pick.
Ease of use Simpler, less focus on design.
Support options Screen sharing, online FAQ, phone and chat.
The bottom line
Across the board, TaxAct’s offerings are less expensive than similar products from competing providers. That’s a nice score — especially for filers who value function over form and want a little human help if necessary.