Ratings Methodology for Tax Software

NerdWallet’s overall ratings for tax software providers are weighted averages of ratings in the following categories:
  • Pricing.
  • Tax forms supported.
  • Tools.
  • Features and ease of use.
  • Help and support availability.
  • Audit support.
  • Data collection and review process

    NerdWallet reviews four companies that provide free tax preparation for U.S. customers. Some of these providers do charge additional fees for some services, such as state returns.

    We collect data from providers, do firsthand testing and observe provider demonstrations, as necessary. Our process starts by sending detailed questions to providers. The questions are structured to equally elicit both favorable and unfavorable responses. They are not designed or prepared to produce any predetermined results. The provider’s answers, combined with our specialists’ hands-on research, make up our proprietary assessment process that scores each provider’s performance.

    The final output produces star ratings from poor (1 star) to excellent (5 stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

    Information updates

    Our writers and editors conduct tax reviews on an annual basis. Throughout the year, we maintain contact with providers and update any changes to their offerings.

    Factor weightings

    The weighting of each rating factor is based on our team’s assessment of which features are most important to consumers and which ones impact the consumer experience in the most meaningful way.

    The review team

    The review team comprises writers and editors who cover taxes and investing. Each writer and editor follows NerdWallet’s strict guidelines for editorial integrity.

    The combined expertise of our team is infused into our review process to ensure thoughtful evaluation of products and services from the customer perspective.

    Pricing

    If the provider’s list price for state returns is free, it earns the highest rating. If the provider charges more than $39.99, it earns the lowest rating.

    Tax forms supported

    We consider how many forms a tax-prep software provider supports. If it supports Form 1040, EITC, CTC, Schedules 1-3, Schedules A, C, D, E and a state return free, it earns the highest rating. The ratings go down the fewer forms are supported. If a provider supports no forms, it gets the lowest rating.

    Tools

    For this category, we consider the following:

  • Refund calculation tracker: If the calculation tracker is prominent on all pages, a provider earns the highest rating. If a provider doesn’t offer a tracker, it earns the lowest rating.
  • Donation calculator: If the calculator is robust and does not require leaving the software, a provider earns the highest rating. If a provider doesn’t offer a donation calculator at all, it receives the lowest rating.
  • Years of storage of prior returns: If a software provider offers storage for more than five years, it earns the highest rating. If it does not offer storage for returns, it earns the lowest rating.
  • Mobile version app store rating: This category reflects how users review each provider’s Android and iOS mobile app in the respective app stores. If user reviews average at least 5 stars, a provider earns the highest rating. If user reviews average less than 4.4 stars, a provider earns the lowest rating.
  • Features and ease of use

    We consider the following:

  • W-2 photo import: If a provider allows users to import W-2 photos from mobile, it earns 5 stars. If it allows users to import W-2s only from a PDF or scan or a desktop, it earns 3 stars. If it does not allow users to import W-2s at all, it earns 1 star.
  • Switch/import from other tax software: If a provider accepts imports from PDF and tax files from all providers, it earns the highest rating. If it does not accept imports from other providers, it earns the lowest rating.
  • Interview process and visual design: If a provider’s software has a comprehensive navigational outline, explanations in layman's terms, and context-sensitive help, it earns 5 stars. If the software only has a comprehensive navigational outline, it earns 1 star.
  • Tracking and ability to skip around: If "Where you are" is visible, and users can skip to virtually any part of the tax return from any page, a provider earns the highest rating. If the software offers no road map for users, it earns the lowest rating.
  • Help options displayed on screen: If all help options are displayed on the page, a provider earns 5 stars. If some help options are displayed, a provider earns 3 stars. If no help options are displayed, a provider earns 1 star.
  • Learn more: If educational options are offered on many pages, a provider earns 5 stars. If options are offered on some pages, a provider earns 3 stars. If education options are not offered on any pages, a provider earns 1 star.
  • Help and support availability

    We consider the following:

  • Free online knowledge base.
  • Email or phone tech support.
  • Free tax support, regardless of package type.
  • Free professional review of a return, regardless of package type.
  • Paid full-service review available.

  • If a provider offers all of these, it earns the highest rating. If it offers only the free online knowledge base, it earns the lowest rating.

    Audit support

    If a provider offers free audit assistance and defense in the event a customer is audited, it earns 5 stars. Some providers offer these services for an additional fee; others may not offer them at all. If a provider offers no audit assistance or defense, it earns 1 star.

    Do you want to provide feedback? Contact us at [email protected].