Ready to file taxes online for 2015? Compare pricing for online tax preparation below — it can be free for many filers — and find out what you should be looking for in online tax software.
with H&R Block
What's free 1040EZ or 1040A and state return 1040EZ or 1040A (not all Schedules supported); state filing subject to additional fee 1040EZ or 1040A and state return
For families with deductions and credits Deluxe, $34.99 federal, $36.99 state Deluxe, $34.99 federal; state filing subject to additional fee Plus, $14.99 federal; $14.99 state
For self-employed Home & Business, $79.99 federal; $36.99 state Premium, $49.99 federal; state filing subject to additional fee Premium, $19.99 federal; $14.99 state
Get your refund by Direct deposit; paper check; prepaid Visa card Direct deposit; paper check; prepaid MasterCard; gift cards Direct deposit; paper check; U.S. Savings Bonds; American Express Serve card
Pay to file by Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional $34.99 fee) Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional $34.99 fee) Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional fee)
Online tools TaxCaster Tax Calculator Tax Calculator
Promotions Prices reflect current discount; cost usually rises in March Save 15% No current offers
Our reviews TurboTax Review H&R Block Review TaxAct Review
Can you prepare and file your tax return for free?
with H&R Block
|What's free||1040EZ or 1040A and state return||1040EZ or 1040A (not all Schedules supported); state filing subject to additional fee||1040EZ or 1040A and state return|
|For families with deductions and credits||Deluxe, $34.99 federal, $36.99 state||Deluxe, $34.99 federal; state filing subject to additional fee||Plus, $14.99 federal; $14.99 state|
|For self-employed||Home & Business, $79.99 federal; $36.99 state||Premium, $49.99 federal; state filing subject to additional fee||Premium, $19.99 federal; $14.99 state|
|Get your refund by||Direct deposit; paper check; prepaid Visa card||Direct deposit; paper check; prepaid MasterCard; gift cards||Direct deposit; paper check; U.S. Savings Bonds; American Express Serve card|
|Pay to file by||Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional $34.99 fee)||Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional $34.99 fee)||Credit card or deduction from refund (for additional fee)|
|Online tools||TaxCaster||Tax Calculator||Tax Calculator|
|Promotions||Prices reflect current discount; cost usually rises in March||Save 15%||No current offers|
|Our reviews||TurboTax Review||H&R Block Review||TaxAct Review|
Your goal is to pay as little in taxes as possible, so making sure your return includes all credits and deductions you’re allowed is crucial. But if you have a very simple return, there’s no need to pay to file it electronically.
If your adjusted gross income is less than $62,000, you can file through the Free File Alliance, a consortium of online tax preparation companies partnering with the IRS to offer guidance, tax forms and electronic filing. Or you can go directly to one of the participating providers — noted above — that make their basic e-filing and guidance services available free to taxpayers who are filing simple returns.
If your adjusted gross is more than $62,000, or you’d rather bypass the guidance and just fill out the forms on your own, the best option is Free Fillable Forms, also from the IRS. You won’t get guidance or help with calculations, but you can fill out the forms and file electronically at no charge.
Of course, filling out printed forms at home and licking a stamp to mail them to the IRS is always free.
Should you pay for online tax filing?
If your return has more complexity — because of dependents, credits and mortgage interest deductions, for instance — you’ll probably want more help.
Online tax preparation services generally do a nice job of simplifying the return process, walking you through preparation with a series of interview questions. As you fill in your information, backend operations enter the data on the appropriate forms that go to the IRS.
Services such as TaxAct, TurboTax and H&R Block typically offer several products:
- A basic service aimed at the simplest returns. It’s often free.
- A deluxe service aimed at taxpayers with common deductions and credits.
- A premium service for filers who are self-employed or contractors.
Typically you won’t pay for a service until you file, so there’s little downside — other than time — to trying out several online providers and picking the one that suits you best.
You usually can pay the cost of tax preparation out of your expected refund, but watch for fees, which can hit $35 or more. And pay attention not just to the cost of the basic service, but also to the cost of filing your state return. In some cases the state return is included; in others, it can cost more than filing your federal return.
While the prices listed here are accurate at time of publication, note that some tax programs’ prices fluctuate during the tax-filing season. It’s a good idea to verify costs before purchasing.
What should you look for in your online tax provider?
- A tax calculator or refund estimator that quickly determines where you stand in terms of your 2015 tax liability.
- The ability to import data from W-2 and 1099 forms and, in many cases, prior-year returns.
- Support, such as easily understood online help content, email, live chat, phone, social media and video conferencing.
- An accuracy guarantee, which assures your return has been filled out correctly and reimburses you if a calculation error costs you money.
- A review of items in your return that increase your chance of an IRS audit. Look at whether audit support service is offered in the event you’re audited.
- A maximum refund guarantee. Many providers refund your fee if another service can get you a bigger refund or smaller tax bill.
What about your tax refund?
The fastest way to get your refund is to file your taxes online and get the refund deposited directly into your bank account. All online tax providers do that. Other options available include a deposit into multiple accounts, a prepaid Visa or MasterCard, store gift cards or even U.S. Savings Bonds.
Some offer additional incentives. If you choose to take part of your federal refund in gift cards, for example, H&R Block adds 10% to the amount. (TurboTax has discontinued its Amazon Refund Bonus for tax year 2015.)
You may be offered a refund anticipation loan to get your refund more quickly, but you’ll pay $25 to $35 for the privilege. We don’t recommend it.