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Best Tax Software 2019

Jan. 22, 2019
Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
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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. We focused on well-known and widely used tax preparation software, and while their underlying math is the same — the tax code is the tax code — there is a crucial difference between paying for what you could use and paying for stuff you don’t need.

We also looked at several other providers but didn’t include them here, because we felt they didn’t provide a level of service and features worth your time and money.


Easiest to use: TurboTax

If you’re going to do your taxes by yourself, your software should make it easy. When it comes to filing taxes online, TurboTax stands out from the crowd.

5.0 NerdWallet rating
  • Free version limitations: Cannot itemize or file Schedules 1-6
  • Paid versions (list price): TurboTaxLive Basic ($89.99), Deluxe ($59.99; $129.99 with TurboTax Live), Premier ($79.99; $179.99 with TurboTax Live), and Self-Employed ($119.99; $209.99 with TurboTax Live)
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for free version; $29.99 for TurboTax Live Basic; $39.99 for other paid versions
  • See our TurboTax review.
Start your return at TurboTax's secure website

TurboTax excels for its design, flow and options that make it easier to deal with your taxes, more so than other providers we looked at. The huge downside is that it’s more expensive than almost everything else out there. Even though confident filers may not need all the bells and whistles that most TurboTax online products offer, many people will find the experience worth a few extra bucks, though.

The user-friendly, interview-style Q&A is like having a chat with a tax preparer. The software asks questions in plain language and puts your answers in the right place on your return. You can skip around, too.

But it’s become increasingly clear to the industry that even DIYers want a human to talk to now and then when they file taxes online. That’s why one of TurboTax’s most outstanding support features is TurboTax Live. It’s an add-on that offers a one-on-one review with a CPA or enrolled agent before you file, as well as unlimited live tax advice. They’ll even sign and e-file your tax return if you want. You can make an appointment or talk on the fly to a tax pro via one-way video (you see them, but they don’t see you — they just see your screen). Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to midnight Eastern, seven days a week.

New this year is an offline expert review option that lets you ask questions and get answers from a CPA, enrolled agent or tax attorney via email.

To boot, you can get tax advice year-round with TurboTax Live (it doesn’t close up shop on April 15). Having on-demand access to a tax pro all year is huge, although you can’t ask to talk to the same tax expert each time you call.

It’s worth noting here that H&R Block has offerings that compete directly with TurboTax in this area.

As mentioned, one negative for TurboTax is that it’s expensive compared with other options. You can easily spend over $100 on software and state-return preparation, depending on the version you choose. If you’re audited, TurboTax provides free audit “guidance” from a tax pro to help you understand what’s going on, but if you want someone to represent you in front of the IRS, you’ll need TurboTax’s audit defense product, called Max Defend & Restore. It costs $39.99.

Budget pick: TaxAct

If your adjusted gross income was less than $66,000 for the 2018 tax year, you probably qualify to use the IRS’ Free File program, which gets you access to free tax-prep software.

If your income was more than that, or you want other options to file taxes online — but want to pay as little as possible — then these might be for you.

TaxAct underwent a significant visual revamp this year, but still has all the basics, such as importing last year’s returns, a W-2 import and a donation assistant (for some of the paid packages), as well as some planning tools and calculators.

TaxAct offers tax support via in-app email for paid users. It also offers an interesting screen-share option for its Premier+ and Self-Employed+ users. It’s not a face-to-face video connection; rather, it simply lets the user and the support agent see each other’s screens, including cursor moves and clicks.

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. 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 denied tax credits, as well as provide tax fraud assistance. You have to buy the coverage at the time of filing — you can’t buy it after the fact.

 

4.5 NerdWallet rating
  • Free version limitations: Cannot itemize or file Schedules 1-6
  • Paid versions (list price): Basic+ ($9.95), Deluxe+ ($29.95), Premier+ ($34.95) and Self-Employed+ ($49.95)
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for Free version; $19.95 Basic+; $39.95 for other paid versions
  • See our TaxAct review.
Start your return at TaxAct's secure website
3.0 NerdWallet rating
  • Free version limitations:Cannot itemize or file schedules 1-6
  • Paid versions (list price): Classic ($17), Premium ($37), Self-Employed ($47), and Ultimate ($57)
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for free version; $29 for paid versions
  • See our TaxSlayer review.
Start your return at TaxSlayer's secure website

 

TaxSlayer is a bargain compared to much of the competition, plus its interface is as handsome as other, more expensive software on the market. It has a mobile app that allows customers to take pictures of their W-2s instead of keying in tons of numbers, plus there’s an online knowledge base. Though phone and email tech support are free, the more valuable kind of support — tax help — is free only for Premium, Self-Employed and Ultimate users.

TaxSlayer Premium, Self-Employed and Ultimate come with free audit assistance (users of other versions can buy it for $29.99), which helps you prepare for an audit but won’t represent you in front of the IRS. The coverage applies for three years from the date you buy the software. Audit defense, which includes representation before the IRS, comes with the Ultimate package.

Best for support options: H&R Block

It’s inevitable that while preparing to file taxes online you’ll run into something or have a question. If you think this is especially likely, you’ll want the most robust support options, and we think H&R Block has an edge here.

4.5 NerdWallet rating
  • Free version limitations: Cannot itemize but can file Schedules 1-6
  • Paid versions (list price): Deluxe ($49.99), Premium ($69.99) and Self-Employed ($104.99). Tax Pro Review adds another $49.99 for Free; $79.99 for Deluxe; and $89.99 for Premium and Self-Employed.
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for free version; $36.99 for paid versions
  • See our H&R Block review.
Start your return at H&R Block's secure website

First, about the software: Finding Schedules 1-6 included in the free version of software is a rarity in the marketplace. And while at list price it isn’t discount software, it’s also generally not the costliest option either. All of this makes it a solid choice for value-seekers who still want sturdy support options and modern features.

But the support is also on the high end. And H&R Block’s online tax packages have a unique second line of defense: an enormous band of human tax preparers at the company’s 12,000 or so offices nationwide. Help at a brick-and-mortar stores isn’t free, of course (in-office appointments start at $59, but it helps to know you can go there if you get hopelessly wrapped around the axle).

H&R Block is competing hard against rival TurboTax with two offerings this year.

First is H&R Block’s new “Ask a Tax Pro” service, which gets you unlimited, on-demand chat sessions with a tax expert. You can share your screen with the tax pro to discuss specific questions. It works on mobile and tablet, or you can talk using a phone instead if you like. Hours of operation for on-demand chat are 8 a.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern on weekends during tax season. The downside: it’s not free — it costs $39.99 for Free and Deluxe users and $49.99 for Premium and Self-Employed users.

Second is H&R Block’s Tax Pro Review, which offers a one-on-one review of your entire return with a tax pro who will go over your documents and check for accuracy and possible missed deductions or credits within three days; the tax pro can even sign and e-file your return for your. You communicate with the tax pro on-demand via a secured message center or arrange for a phone call if you prefer. Users of the Free edition can tack it on for $49.99; Deluxe users pay $79.99; and Premium and Self-Employed users pay $89.99. You can also buy the service as a standalone product for $119.99 plus $36.99 for every state you file.

Not all of H&R Block’s tax pros are CPAs or enrolled agents, but the company says they undergo more than 60 hours of training and complete additional 30-plus hours of annual training to get ready each year for tax season; it also says the tax pros who help its online filers have 15 years of experience on average and get additional training specifically around the company’s online products.

» Expecting a tax refund? Here are the best online brokers for beginners


Summary: Best tax software

TurboTax



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BEST FOROverall + ease of useSupport optionsBudget pick
FREE VERSION SUPPORTS• Child tax credit
• Earned Income tax credit
• Dividend & interest income
• Education credits
• W-2 income
• Credit for elderly or disabled
• Child tax credit
• Earned Income tax credit
• Dividend & interest income
• Education credits
• W-2 income
• Credit for elderly or disabled
• Schedules 1-6
• Child tax credit
• Earned Income tax credit
• Dividend & interest income
• Education credits
• W-2 income
• Credit for elderly or disabled
• Child tax credit
• Earned Income tax credit
• Dividend & interest income
• Education credits
• W-2 income
• Credit for elderly or disabled
COST OF SOFTWARE (list price)TurboTaxLive Basic $89.99

Deluxe: $59.99; $129.99 with TurboTaxLive

Premier: $79.99; $179.99 with TurboTaxLive

Self-Employed: $119.99; $209.99 with TurboTaxLive
Deluxe: $49.99; Tax Pro Review adds $79.99

Premium: $69.99; Tax Pro Review adds $89.99

Self-Employed: $104.99; Tax Pro Review adds $89.99
Basic+: $9.95

Deluxe+: $29.95

Premier+:$34.95

Self-Employed+: $49.95
Classic: $17

Premium: $37

Self-Employed: $47

Ultimate: $57
COST OF STATE RETURN (list price)Free version: $0

TurboTaxLive Basic: $29.99

All other paid: $39.99
Free version: $0

All paid: $36.99
Free version: $0

Basic+: $19.95

All other: $39.95
Free version: $0

All paid: $29

To recap: here is a list of our winners by category:

Best Tax Software

  • Best overall & easiest to use: TurboTax
  • Best if you’re on a budget: TaxAct
  • Best for support options: H&R Block

More tips for choosing tax software

1. SEE IF YOU CAN USE A SOFTWARE PROVIDER’S FREE VERSION

  • Virtually all large tax software providers offer free versions of their software if you want to file taxes online, but they’re usually only for people with really simple tax returns.
  • Note that state returns sometimes aren’t free (especially as the filing deadline nears).

2. SEE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR FREE FILING THROUGH THE IRS

  • The IRS’s Free File program could get you name-brand software from about a dozen tax-prep companies if your adjusted gross income is below $66,000 (for 2017).
  • If your income exceeds that threshold, you can get access only to fillable electronic versions of the IRS forms and not much guidance.

3. do your homework on audit protection

Audits are unlikely, but if you think you’re at risk of an audit and want to purchase protection, you should understand what your software provides.

In general, there are two levels of service:

  • Guidance (which basically means helping you understand what’s happening)
  • Representation (which means a skilled human will speak with the IRS on your behalf)

Most preparers offer free guidance, but you’ll likely have to pay for representation.

Here’s a brief summary of what each provider offers:

  • H&R Block: Offers a sort of combo product called Worry-Free Audit Support. This gets you one-on-one contact with a tax professional to help guide you through an audit. It costs $19.99 and includes IRS correspondence management, audit preparation and in-person audit representation.
  • TaxAct: Audit support consists of a FAQ page on its website. But customers can buy audit defense from a partner company called Protection Plus for $49.
  • TaxSlayer: Premium, Self-Employed and Ultimate come with free audit assistance (users of other versions can buy it for $29.99), which helps you prepare for an audit but won’t represent you in front of the IRS. The coverage applies for three years from the date you buy the software. Audit defense, which includes representation before the IRS, comes with the Ultimate package.
  • TurboTax: If you get an audit notice, you’ll get free guidance about what to expect and how to prepare. But if you want someone to actually represent you in front of the IRS, you’ll need to buy TurboTax’s Audit Defense product when you file. That runs $39.99.

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