Our Picks for the Best Tax Software
It’s simple, step-by-step instructions take the guesswork out of doing your taxes.
When it comes to overall design, user experience, and unique features, there’s no question TurboTax is the best. Its online app is incredibly responsive and easy to use, and you can upload your W-2 simply by taking a picture of it. And if your employer’s payroll provider is a TurboTax partner, you can import it directly with a few clicks. Its tablet and mobile apps are just as sleek, and you can smoothly transition from one device to another. TurboTax has managed to make doing your taxes feel like a simple game, a breezy slideshow that ends with a fat refund check and no audit.
If you’re self-employed (meaning you’ll file schedules SE and C), you can take advantage of a brand-new feature called Expense Finder. After connecting the software to your bank account, Expense Finder surfaces every single transaction from the past fiscal year that might qualify as a deduction — and it comes with a free, yearlong subscription to Intuit QuickBooks.
TurboTax users also get free expert help via SmartLook™, which connects them via one-way video to a CPA or enrolled agent — aside from a face-to-face chat, this is one of the best customer support tools in the industry. And this year, TurboTax improved with the ability to schedule appointments. The one downside: SmartLook™ isn’t available for Federal Free Edition users.
During our testing, we really liked that TurboTax didn’t push its high-priced options when we didn’t need them. The flow (and soothing icons) helps you choose the software that is best for you depending on your needs, even if it’s the free version. We entered “single” when asked for our marital status and it pointed us right to the free federal 1040EZ option.
From there, filing with TurboTax was like having a pleasant grade-school teacher direct us through our taxes. After the completion of almost any task, even an incredibly tiny one, TurboTax is quick to give a pat on the back with an entire screen dedicated to a giant blue exclamation: “You’ve Done a Great Job So Far!” When we’re in the throes of tax season, we’ll take any encouragement we can get (even if it’s from software).
For its premium versions, TurboTax has some of the steepest prices and developer Intuit has upped costs even more in the last few years — charging for some premium features that were once free. But, it’s also made more of its software options cheaper than ever. TurboTax’s Absolute Zero program makes the expensive (and worth it) software free for millions of filers — anyone with less than $100,000 in income who doesn’t have any rental, investment, or business income to claim or big medical bills to deduct. TurboTax will tempt you to upgrade in order to pre-populate your state forms (instead of retyping it all in yourself), but it won’t charge you for anything else: not federal, not state, not a filing fee.
If in-person support sets your mind at ease, then one of its agents at its 12,000 locations should do the trick.
H&R Block’s calling card is a real-life, flesh-and-blood helping hand. In-person assistance at any of its hundreds of office locations is free to anyone who purchases the online or desktop software. (Free federal filers: You don’t get in-person assistance unless you upgrade, but you can file your return in an office.) If you’re someone who really likes the safety net of a human being guiding you through the muck of tax jargon, H&R Block is the way to go.
H&R Block was an easy top pick for personalized customer support. None of our finalists had 24-hour phone support (they were all generally available during business hours, though times vary depending on time of year). And we didn’t make much of email support; so many taxpayers file at the last minute that, in this setting, email is more like snail mail. When we called on H&R Block for instant chat, it was immediately on the line, and even though it took us a few minutes longer to talk to someone on the phone, it was still such a short wait we didn’t ding the company.
And there’s not much to complain about with H&R Block’s software, either: It’s got a simple, straightforward design with logical checklists that show you how far you’ve come. The progression might be a little too restrictive for some, though; you can’t skip around to different sections or even preview them to see what’s in store. If you try, a lot of red text lets you know you haven’t finished the step you’re on yet. Not so fast, tax filer.
By far the cheapest, but only best if you’re filing a simple return.
Like TurboTax, TaxAct guides you through screen by screen, automatically saving your information as you go, but unlike TurboTax it doesn’t congratulate you with a giant, heartwarming compliment.
TaxAct is by far the cheapest of our recommendations. If you have a relatively simple return, and you want to get in and out as inexpensively as possible, TaxAct is the way to go. It also has a PriceLock guarantee, a not-so-subtle dig at competitors like TurboTax, which is notorious for pricing changes even after you’ve started your return. Additionally, free TaxAct users can access their return for seven years, which is a paid feature for TurboTax and H&R Block.
The software’s limited e-filing of state taxes might be a deal breaker for some users. The software is missing key forms that make it ineligible for e-filing in some states: It doesn’t have 1041, 1065, 1120, and 1120S for every state. To be fair, forms 1120 and 1120S are for corporations, and most corporations won’t use simple consumer tax software to file. Regardless, if you have a small business, you probably don’t want to file with TaxAct.
Pricing and Features Comparison
|Filing Federal Online||$0 – $90||$0 – $60||$0 – $30|
|Filing State Online||$30 – $100||$20 – $80||$0 – $25|
|Desktop Software (both federal and state)||$30 – $100||$20 – $80||$40 – $55|
|1040EZ and 1040A Free Filing|
|Average Phone Hold Time*||25 Minutes||27 Minutes||19 Minutes|
|Free Filing for the Military|
|Multiple Disbursement Options|
|Automatic W2 Import|
|Complete Taxes on the Mobile App|
|Extensive Educational Material|
|Support via Social Media|
*Average hold times came from GetHuman.com
Other Tax Software We Considered
While Efile has been gaining in popularity lately, and it passed our round of cuts, we didn’t feel comfortable recommending it in the end. We liked the no-frills nature of its simple, text-heavy design, but the process started feeling monotonous as we went from section to section. In the end, we feel the similarly priced TaxAct is a better fit for budget-conscious consumers.
TaxPoint can do both consumer and business taxes, but the checklists of questions weren’t intuitive or well-organized. We were left unnecessarily scratching our heads staring down the checkboxes next to sentences like, “Did you pay more than half of the cost to keep up the home that you lived in 2016?” (What if our landlord was the one who maintained our building?) And we nearly missed the box about paying interest on student loans — it was in a checklist with three questions about having children. The best software logically organizes questions under meaningful titles, such as “Your Family” and “Education.”