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Best Tax Software 2018

Jan. 30, 2018
Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
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NerdWallet offers financial tools and advice to help people understand their options and make the best possible decisions. The guidance we offer and info we provide are deeply researched, objective and independent.

We've reviewed online software from the biggest players in the DIY tax industry. To help you find the best tax software for your situation, we scrutinized pricing; tested the user interfaces, simulating how they guide you through the process; and dug into support offerings, including what happens should you get audited.

Taxes are confusing enough without the added stress of figuring out which tax software is the best, 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.

Easiest to use: TurboTax

If you’re going to do your taxes by yourself, your software should make it as easy and clear as possible to file taxes online. On this front, TurboTax stands out from the crowd.

  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A
  • Paid versions (list price): Deluxe ($59.99), Premier ($79.99), Self-Employed ($119.99) and TurboTax Live ($179.99)
  • State return prep (list price): $29.99 for free version; $39.99 for paid versions
  • See our TurboTax review.
Start your return at TurboTax's secure website

TurboTax stands out for its design and flow, making it easy to enter all your tax information, more so than other providers we looked at. It’s pricier than most, but while confident filers may not need the bells and whistles, many people will find the experience worth a few extra dollars. The user-friendly, interview-style Q&A is like having a chat with a tax preparer who asks questions in plain English and knows where to put the answers on your return.

Paid users can get free, real-time help via SmartLook, which connects you to a tax specialist via one-way video using the TurboTax mobile app or your computer (but users of the free version have to pay extra for this), and there’s a large repository of answers and research.

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. New this year is TurboTax Live — a high-end package that handles virtually every form the IRS can throw at you, plus you get a one-on-one review with a human CPA or Enrolled Agent before you file, as well as unlimited live tax advice from an on-screen CPA or EA. TurboTax doesn’t have a network of brick-and-mortar locations like H&R Block, where you can sit down with a professional in person if you like; for many, TurboTax Live is the next best thing.

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, the company offers free guidance, but if you want actual representation before the IRS, you’ll need to buy an add-on product called Audit Defense that runs $44.99.

Budget picks: TaxSlayer and TaxAct

If your adjusted gross income was less than $66,000 for the 2017 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.

  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ
  • Paid versions (list price): Classic ($24), Premium ($44) and Self-Employed ($47)
  • 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 versions 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 and Self-Employed users.

TaxSlayer Premium and Self-Employed 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. And note that freelancers or anybody else filing a Schedule C won’t qualify for audit assistance. State returns also aren’t covered. The coverage applies for three years from the date you buy the software. There is no audit defense available.

TaxAct is also less expensive than most of the competition. The Plus version, for example, is less than half the cost of TurboTax’s or H&R Block’s comparable products. TaxAct will hook you up with a CPA or Enrolled Agent over the phone or via live chat if you need help. Free tax help via phone (for paid users) is a rare find, especially for software at this price point.

  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ
  • Paid versions (list price): Basic ($14.95), Plus ($39.95), Freelancer ($59.95) and Premium ($69.95)
  • State return prep (list price): $17 for Free and Basic; $39.99 for other paid versions
  • See our TaxAct review.
Start your return at TaxAct's secure website

Some competitors spent part of the year tweaking design elements and color palettes, but TaxAct has largely stuck with what worked last year — and that’s just fine. It has all the basics, such as importing last year’s returns, a W-2 import, a donation assistant and some planning tools and calculators. And because the software is online, you can log in from other devices if you’re working on your return here and there.

TaxAct redesigned its mobile app, and new this year is the ability to start and file taxes online on any device. All of the company’s products are available via mobile, and this year the app also has smart camera functionality so you can capture your W-2 instantly.

TaxAct’s audit assistance consists of a FAQ page on its website. But customers can buy help from a partner company. It includes three years of audit services for this year’s return, and TaxAct says it includes comprehensive response and resolution strategy, IRS and state correspondence, help with denied credits, and tax debt and tax fraud assistance. That service is included in the Premium package and runs $39 for everyone else.

For those who want more support: 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.

  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A (earlier in the season, it also included Form 1040 with Schedule A)
  • Paid versions (list price): Deluxe ($49.99), Premium ($69.99) and Self-Employed ($94.99)
  • State return prep (list price): $29.99 for free version; $39.99 for paid versions
  • See our H&R Block review.
Start your return at H&R Block's secure website

First, about the software: earlier in the tax season, H&R Block’s free software filed all three versions of the 1040 (1040EZ, 1040A and regular 1040 with a Schedule A). Finding the 1040 included in the free version of software is a rarity in the marketplace, which makes it a pity that the company only offered it for a limited time this year (the free version now only works with the 1040EZ and 1040A). There is another rub, too: H&R Block’s paid software runs on the high end, price-wise.

Back to support. H&R Block users enjoy the ultimate security blanket — some 12,000 brick-and-mortar offices staffed with humans who can help you if you utterly and completely screw up your return. The cost of that help isn’t included with the software, but better perhaps to have it and not need it than to need it but not have it. Deluxe and Premium package users also get free online chat with a tax professional.

H&R Block is also coming after TurboTax hard this year with its Tax Pro Review offering. It’s an add-on that costs between $49.99 and $89.99 depending on which software version you buy. The people who provide tax support and review tax returns submitted for Tax Pro Review are graduates of H&R Block’s 60-hour Income Tax Course and must complete at least 18 hours of continuing education and an average of 20 hours of skills training on policies and procedures every year. The tax pros handling Tax Pro Review returns are “certified at H&R Block’s highest levels and are our most tenured and experienced tax professionals,” according to the company.

» Expecting a tax refund? Here are 9 ways to make that money work for you

Summary: Best tax software


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 H&R Block

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BEST FOROverall + ease of useOverall + supportBudget pickBudget pick
FREE VERSION SUPPORTS1040EZ, 1040A1040EZ, 1040A (earlier in the season, it also included 1040 and Schedule A)1040EZ1040EZ
COST OF SOFTWARE (list price)Deluxe: $59.99

Premier: $79.99

Self-Employed: $119.99

TurboTax Live:
Deluxe: $49.99

Premium: $69.99

Self-Employed: $94.99
Classic: $24

Premium: $44

Self-Employed: $47
Basic: $14.95

Plus: $39.95

Freelancer: $59.95

Premium: $69.95
COST OF STATE RETURN (list price)Free version: $29.99

All paid: $39.99
Free version: $29.99

All paid: $39.99
Free version: $0

All paid: $29
Free version: $17

Basic: $17

All other: $39.99
File with TurboTax
File with H&R Block
File with TaxSlayer
File with TaxAct

To recap: If you want to file taxes online, TurboTax and H&R Block are the best tax-software providers in 2018, winning because of their features, ease of use and support options.

Here is a list of our winners by category:

Best Tax Software

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

More tips for choosing tax software


  • 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 filing a Form 1040EZ or a 1040A.
  • Note that state returns sometimes aren’t free.


  • 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 and inquiry assistance services” from a partner company. That service is included in the Premium package and runs $39 for everyone else.
  • TaxSlayer: Premium and Self-Employed software packages 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. There is no audit defense available.
  • 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 $44.99.

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