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The Best Free Tax Software…

Our Picks for the Best Free Tax Software

TurboTax

The easiest to use, plus top-notch customer support.

It doesn’t get any simpler than TurboTax. From the moment Federal Free users snap a pic of their W-2 (or import it directly from one of TurboTax’s many payroll partners), the entire process is a series of clean, uncomplicated prompts that guide you like a friend — not an instruction manual. The software is littered with relevant “FYIs” and links to TurboTax’s surplus of educational resources; each one placed in just the right spot to help make sure you don’t miss anything that could make major waves in your return, like how filing jointly could save you money or that you will need to file form 1040A instead of 1040EZ if you want to take advantage of certain scholastic credits.

Inputting basic information on TurboTax.

All our top picks have apps that allow 1040EZ and 1040A filers to complete their returns for free on smartphones and tablets, but again, TurboTax comes out with the cleanest interface of all. Its app feels the most fluid in use, and most importantly, the flow and icons reflect the exact same workflow as the desktop, so jumping between your desktop and smartphone is a breeze.

Here’s another way to spin it: For those who don’t have access to a laptop or desktop computer, TurboTax is the best way to file your taxes for free. And believe it or not, lots of people do just that — according to TurboTax, over six million self-preparers completed their returns from start to finish on mobile devices for the 2015 fiscal year.

Inputting basic information on an iPhone 6 Plus. All three apps are easy to use, but it’s little things like 1Password integration, smoother swipes, and a more intuitive menu that set TurboTax apart. From left to right: TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct.

Unless you’ve prepared taxes before, it’s hard to have all your ducks in a row the first time your sit down to file. Let’s say you’re filling out the personal information section and can’t remember your spouse’s social security number. With TurboTax, you can skip most any question you don’t know the answer to offhand and complete it later — meaning you could leave the SSN field blank and continue on filling out what you do know. H&R Block and TaxAct also allow question skipping in a few select sections, but not nearly as much as TurboTax. It’s a seemingly marginal difference that makes the overall process much more approachable.

Another thing that makes TurboTax the king of free filing is its AnswerXchange tool, which is the combination of a self-help FAQ database and online community of tax professionals and other users. It’s also really, really comprehensive. We found answers to several questions we had while researching TurboTax (like whether TurboTax offer phone support to free users) with just a few clicks. But if you don’t manage to find what you’re looking for, you can also submit questions to the rest of the community for feedback. That process isn’t as quick as TaxAct’s dedicated phone line for free users, but AnswerXchange is by and large the most exhaustive online resource of all our top picks. (H&R Block only offers technical support via live chat for free users.)

Other Free Tax Software to Consider

H&R Block

Great features, but lacks the in-person support of paid options.

H&R Block’s primary selling point is that is has tax experts on the ready at 12,000 locations nationwide — and really, there’s no better support tool than a real human. However, Free Edition users do not get access to in-person help. Rather, H&R Block only offers “technical support” via live chat, which is far less appealing. Otherwise, its Free Edition is a top-notch software option that is second only to TurboTax, and has a nice little perk: It’s the only free edition of any tax software that allows users to import their last return for free — and it works no matter which tax prep company you used. TurboTax’s Federal Free Edition doesn’t offer prior-year imports that weren’t created with TurboTax, and TaxAct charges $15.

TaxAct

Lacks a few forms, but offers strong customer support and a simple interface.

TaxAct lacks certain forms that make it impossible for residents of certain states to e-file. Otherwise, it’s a great free tax software that competes closely with TurboTax and H&R Block. The software is impressively simple, and on top of that, it’s the only one of our top picks that offers unlimited email and phone support (during normal business hours, of course).

It’s also worth mentioning that if you don’t feel safe inputting your data online, TaxAct is the only company that has a desktop version of its free edition.


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