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Filing your taxes online can be quick, easy, and affordable with the right tax software. What tax app is best for you will depend on several factors, including cost, your filing status, and the complexity of your returns.
Here, we’ll look at six tax preparation software companies: TurboTax, H&R Block, FreeTax USA, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, and Cash App Taxes. While these aren’t the only names on the market, they’re some of the most well-known. Any of these options could be a good fit for you, depending on your needs and how much assistance you’ll need to safely get through filing your taxes.
Overview of the Best Tax Software
|Brand||App||Free Version||Basic Package Cost*|
|TurboTax||X||X||$0 to $129|
|Cash App Taxes||X||X||No Cost|
Best Tax Software
TurboTax is one of the most popular online tax preparation options, but it can also get pricey. It offers three service options: DIY, Assisted with live expert advice, and Full Service which offers complete tax preparation. You’ll find great features and a slick, easy-to-use interface. If you’re nervous about missing something when filing your taxes online, TurboTax may be the software for you. TurboTax walks you through the process step-by-step and offers access to video tutorials and an online community of other users if you have questions.
If you prefer live expert advice with the Assisted option, you follow the same path as the DIY preparation, but you have access to a live professional at any time. TurboTax Full Service provides you with a licensed professional who does your taxes for you.
- Auto-fills your W-2 information when you upload a picture of your W-2 form. This can save you some time. Depending on who you work for, just your personal and employer information may be enough to pull your W-2 information into your tax filing automatically.
- A mobile app, that lets you file your taxes on the go or even if you don’t have a home computer.
- Tax assistance from a live tax expert is available with the Assisted and Full Service options.
- Audit Support, which is free for basic answers to questions if you’re audited at any point after filing your taxes. You can also choose to pay for additional audit support called TurboTax Audit Defense, which would then give you access to a professional who would take care of most of the proceedings in case of an audit.
- Plenty of options to file
- Provides a simple walkthrough if you decide to do your taxes yourself
- You can start with the cheapest option and easily upgrade as you go if necessary
- Excellent customer service
- Pricing is higher than competitors
- No option for face-to-face assistance
How much TurboTax charges depends on how complicated your return is and how much access to a tax professional you want to have. The plans are DIY, Assisted, and Full Service. The free plan is for simple tax returns only.
DIY offers no tax help while Assisted allows you to speak with a tax pro and ask questions about your taxes. Full Service means that a TurboTax tax expert will do your taxes for you.
- DIY: $0 – $129
- Assisted: $99 – $219
- Full Service: $219 – $409
TurboTax Is Best For: Easy Filing
TurboTax is excellent for anyone who wants to do their own taxes. If you qualify for the free filing, it’s a no-brainer. You can always upgrade to the Assisted option if you feel more comfortable having immediate access to a specialist for help.
With H&R Block, you can drag and drop last year’s return into the program, and you’re ready to prepare your taxes. They offer various options for taxpayers, including investors, business owners, or taxpayers looking to maximize deductions.
H&R Block Features
- You can add online live assistance and screen sharing to any plan starting at $70.
- In-person assistance is available at H&R Block locations.
- The free plan is open to more people including students or anyone with a 1040 and Schedules 1 and 3.
- You can receive your refund on Spruce, a mobile banking app from H&R Block, that comes with a debit card.
- A mobile app is available. You can file your taxes right from your phone.
- The free version allows you to file in more than one state for no additional cost.
- Has a version specifically for expats. So if you are living overseas this might be the best tax software for you.
H&R Block Pros
- It’s easy to import last year’s tax return if you used another service
- Plenty of affordable options
H&R Block Cons
- No phone or live chat support if you use the free version
- There are a lot of add-ons that for many people are necessary, making the cost higher
- Your online professional won’t necessarily be a licensed CPA
H&R Block Cost
H&R Block offers four pricing tiers:
- Free version for simple tax returns – $0 for federal and $0 for each state return
- Deluxe for those that don’t qualify for the free version – $55 and $49 for each state return
- Premium for investors and real estate owners – $75 and $49 for each state return
- Self-employed for anyone who owns their own business or freelancers – $115 and $49 for each state return
Plans with tax assistance start at $70 for the Basic plan, $115 for Deluxe, $165 for Premium, and $195 for Self-employed.
Expat plans are as follows:
- DIY returns start at $99 plus $49 per FBAR, $99 per state return
- Advisor-assisted plans start at $199 plus $99 per FBAR, $125 per state return
H&R Block is Best For: Experienced Filers
H&R Block is TurboTax’s largest competitor, but it’s not as user-friendly as TurboTax. If you don’t need the simplified walkthrough that TurboTax offers, H&R Block is a good option, and the pricing tiers are more affordable.
H&R Block is a trustworthy name if you want to have your taxes done in person, but its software is also a good option. It’s still not quite as intuitive as TurboTax, but it’s getting there. It also offers the option to get live tax help while you’re filing your taxes at home.
FreeTax USA is extremely affordable for all tax situations and only charges $7.99 for the Deluxe plan with live tax assistance if you have tax questions.
The Deluxe version handles tax forms that most software doesn’t handle until you pay for the premium or self-employed version. This includes Schedule C for self-employment, Schedule E for rental real estate, and Schedule D for capital gains.
FreeTax USA Features
- Free tech support via email, or if you pay for the deluxe version via chat.
- Support for most tax forms, even with the free basic version.
- An accuracy guarantee that will pay interest and penalties assessed by the IRS due to a calculation error in their software.
- Cheaper than average state returns
- The Deluxe plan comes with valuable live chat support for a low price tag.
- The Pro Support option is also affordable for the ability to talk with a CPA/EA.
- Face-to-face support is not available.
- There’s no mobile app.
FreeTax USA Cost
FreeTax USA has three price points. All plans cover the same tax situations but the Deluxe version adds a few extra features such as tax assistance and unlimited amendments. The Pro Support plan gives you access to call a CPA/EA if you have any questions.
- Free: $0 for federal and $14.99 for each state return
- Deluxe: $7.99 for federal and $14.99 for each state return
- Pro Support: $49.99 for federal and $14.99 for each state return
TaxAct doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as its competitors but it also has a good interface and can help you find deductions to save money. The program offers many great features and lower prices than TurboTax and H&R Block. TaxAct’s process isn’t quite as guided and foolproof as TurboTax. But if you know which income and deductions you’re going to file, it’s easy to use. It may not be as fancy as the others, but it gets the job done and leaves more money in your pocket.
- You can pay an additional cost of $39.99 to file with an expert for live support.
- Offers pro tips throughout the process to help you make the most of filing your taxes.
- Provides personalized advice for next year’s taxes to make it easier for you.
- Mobile App available for Android users and on the Apple Store in some regions.
- TaxAct inspects returns for incomplete information, errors, and additional savings opportunities.
- Offers Audit Defense for an additional fee.
- You can import last year’s taxes even from other programs
- Has a ‘double check’ feature that ensures you didn’t miss anything
- The free plan is very limited and students with student loans don’t qualify
- It doesn’t offer step-by-step guidance like its competitors
TaxAct has four plans depending on how complex your taxes are.
- Free – Only for taxpayers with the simplest tax returns – $0 for federal and $39.99 for each state return
- Deluxe – For most other taxpayers with itemized deductions – $24.99 for federal and $44.99 for each state return
- Premier – For stock and real estate investors – $34.99 for federal and $44.99 for each state return
- Self-Employed – For freelancers, contractors, and business owners – $64.99 for federal and $44.99 for each state return
TaxAct – Best for an Affordable Option with Expert Assistance
TaxAct can be a great program if you’re sure of how to file your taxes and don’t need a lot of help. If you do need extra support, it offers expert assistance for a reasonable cost.
TaxSlayer offers lower prices but at a cost–there’s less support throughout the process. If you’re confident in your ability to file your taxes, you might find TaxSlayer good enough for you. If you’re a freelancer or self-employed, you’ll also find TaxSlayer’s Self-Employed version is one of the most affordable options on this list.
- Phone and email support is available for the free version.
- Offers the most affordable option for self-employed individuals out of the competitors in this list.
- Active duty military can file for free.
- Free email, chat, and phone support if you have technical problems with the software.
- Only offers audit support on the Premium edition.
- Ask a tax professional questions with the Premium and Self-Employed plans.
- Access to the Classic edition of TaxSlayer for free for military members and active-duty military families, state fees still apply.
- Its free version works for students
- Lower cost than most competitors
- Free version includes a free state tax return
- More complicated to follow if you are not confident in filing your taxes
- It will require more work since uploading or importing documents is not available with the free version
TaxSlayer has four plans. Free and Classic do not offer any tax assistance from a live tax expert. Premium and Self-Employed both offer unlimited tax support from a tax expert.
- Simply Free for simple tax returns including students – $0 for federal and one free state return
- Classic works for anyone except the self-employed – $34.95 for federal and $39.95 for each state return
- Premium works for any situation except self-employed and includes live chat, skip-the-line phone support, and email support – $54.95 for federal and $39.95 for each state return
- Self-employed is for anyone who owns their own business or for freelancers – $64.95 for federal and $39.95 for each state return
TaxSlayer – Best for Military and Self-Employed
If you know what you’re doing, TaxSlayer is the best option for active-duty military since it’s free and for self-employed individuals since it’s affordable. You’ll pay lower fees than competing tax preparation software companies and get what you need to file your taxes on time.
Cash App Taxes
Cash App Taxes, formerly Credit Karma tax, is a 100% free tax software platform. It’s best for people with basic tax returns, but it can be used by those who itemize their deductions or are self-employed. It doesn’t come with any tax assistance, not even for an additional fee. However, it does offer audit defense for free.
Cash App Features:
- No paid tiers. Everyone files taxes for free.
- Mobile app is available for filing taxes.
- Audit defense included. This includes not only the ability to ask questions but they will also represent you to the IRS.
- No tax assistance from a tax professional.
- Tech support is email only.
- It doesn’t cost anything for anyone
- Provides free audit defense
- Easy to use – most people file in a short time
- Access to your refund up to six days faster if you deposit it in Cash App
- Doesn’t work for all tax situations (most complex situations)
- Less support than other programs provide
- You’ll need to download the Cash App first and then file on your phone or computer
Cash App Taxes Price
Cash App has a pretty straightforward pricing structure. It’s free.
Cash App Taxes – Best for Free Filing
If you’re somewhat comfortable filing your taxes and don’t have any highly unique circumstances, Cash App Taxes can be an excellent option for you, and it’s completely free!
Which Tax Software Is Best?
If your tax filing situation is relatively basic, any of these software options could work for you–especially the free versions. However, some have features that might win out over competitors, including:
- TurboTax’s superior guide: TurboTax is known as one of the most user-friendly options on the market, as it will guide you through every step of the process so you don’t miss anything. It also bookmarks where you leave off if you file your taxes in several sessions, so again, you don’t miss any major pieces.
- H&R Blocks’s in-person option: H&R Block is the only company on this list that offers actual in-person advice.
- TaxAct and TaxSlayer’s balance of pricing and guidance: TaxAct seems to offer more guidance than the other cheaper options on the market, so if you’re willing to pay slightly more for this extra guidance, it’s a great option. TaxSlayer offers tax assistance for relatively cheap.
- FreeTaxUSA’s and Cash App Taxes’ pricing: These are definitely the cheapest options on the market. Check each one for the tax forms you need before you decide which super-cheap option to choose.
There’s quite a bit to consider when deciding which tax software to use, especially if you’ve never used software to file your taxes before.
Again, if you’re a DIY tax pro – meaning you’ve successfully filed your taxes before and don’t mind the process – any of these software choices are worth considering. If you’re new to the DIY route, investing in an option that is user-friendly and offers solid customer support and guidance is probably your best bet.
Best Free Tax Software
If you have a simple tax situation, with just W-2 income and the standard deduction, then you can choose any tax software you want as they all offer free tax prep for simple returns. Note that FreeTax USA charges $14.99 for each state return and TaxAct charges $39.95. However, if you have a simple return and need to file in multiple states consider H&R Block since it allows you to file more than one state return for free.
If you have a more complicated tax return to file but feel confident in your ability to DIY your return then consider Cash App or FreeTax USA. Both offer free (or very low cost) returns for more complicated taxes. FreeTax USA actually offers access to a tax professional for just $7.99 for federal and $14.99 for state. It’s not free, but it’s still hard to beat.
Related: Best Free Tax Software
Other Ways to File for Free
Beyond the tax software above, there are ways to file your taxes for free.
IRS Tax Volunteers VITA and TCE
VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) are reliable and trusted sources for preparing tax returns. All VITA/TCE volunteers must take and pass tax law training that meets IRS guidelines. To use the program, though, you must meet specific eligibility requirements.
- Earn $60,000 or less per year
- Have a documented disability
- Don’t speak English as your first language
- Be over 60 years old
- Free access to qualified tax help
- Helps you understand your tax rights
- Only certain people are eligible
- The program isn’t operated by the IRS (although they manage it)
- You get 100% free tax help
- You can file your taxes and just ask for their guidance if you prefer
- You can e-file for free
The program is entirely free.
VITA and TCE – Best for the Elderly and Low-Income Filers
You must meet the eligibility requirements to use the program, which means you must be elderly or have a low income to qualify.
IRS Free File
The IRS Free File offers a couple of options to file your taxes for free. To qualify, you must make less than $73,000 a year for guided tax preparation online. For free fillable forms online, though, you can use the program no matter your income.
- It’s free
- There’s no income limit to access the fillable forms
- You must be able to file your taxes without help if you make more than the income limit
- Doesn’t provide error checking
- You get access to all tax forms for free
- There are line-by-line instructions available
- You’ll receive confirmation when the IRS accepts your form
It’s free for everyone.
IRS Free File – Best for the Thrifty Filer
If you’re comfortable filing your taxes and don’t need any support, you could file your taxes free, saving yourself money.
Best Tax Software for Investors
Investors tend to have more complicated tax returns, especially if you’ve sold investments during the year. This means that you likely need to pay for tax software to prepare your taxes.
If you are comfortable filing without any tax assistance from an expert then aim for the cheapest version that will suit your needs, such as FreeTax USA. However, taxes where you have real estate investments or you, have sold stocks during the year, either at a gain or a loss are complicated and it’s normal to have questions along the way.
Here are the plan levels for investors:
TurboTax – DIY without assistance it’s $0 to $129 for federal and $0 $59 for state (depending on if you qualify for a free federal return). With tax assistance, it is $99 – $219 for federal and $54 or $64 for each state.
H&R Block – Premium without assistance is $75 for federal and $49 for each state return. It doesn’t say what their plans for investors will cost with assistance, but it starts at $85 for federal with state returns being an additional fee.
FreeTax USA – Free edition covers all tax situations, including investing income or losses, for $0 for federal and $14.99 for each state return. If you want to add tax assistance with a tax pro it will cost $39.99.
TaxAct – Premier with assistance is $34.99 for federal and $44.99 for each state return.
TaxSlayer – Classic without assistance is $34.95 for federal and $39.95 for each state return. Tax assistance comes with the Premium plan for $54.95 for federal and $39.95 for state.
Cash App Taxes– Free for both federal and state, but does not offer any tax advice.
What Are Tax Software Programs?
Tax software programs are essentially online, automated tax-preparation applications. Each program has different features. Some walk you through each step slowly, while others leave you on your own but offer the option to pay for live support. The best tax software for you helps you file your taxes with confidence and with the guarantee you need for peace of mind, including audit defense if you’re concerned about an audit.
In a best-case scenario, a simple return can be completed in as little as a few minutes, while a more complicated one may be done within no more than two hours.
The major advantage of tax software programs is the ability to prepare your income tax returns – both federal and state – without paying the higher cost of a live tax preparer.
How to Choose the Best Tax Software for You
Look at the features of each tax program to decide which is the best tax software for you. Each program has different features and different pricing.
Think about your tax situation, what forms you’ll file, and what level of support you need. If you don’t need a lot of support, you can choose a less expensive option. If you need more help, though, there are plenty of programs that offer one-on-one support or at least a thorough walkthrough to help you file your taxes correctly.
Never look simply at the cost of tax software. Yes, price matters, but what’s equally important is the ability of the specific software to accommodate your personal tax situation.
For example, the lower-cost plans and providers are generally designed for people with relatively simple tax situations. That may include W-2 income, interest and dividends, a relatively modest amount of capital gains, itemized deductions, and deductions and credits specific to dependent children. Virtually any medium-level tax software should be able to accommodate this tax profile.
But if you are an investor who trades frequently, or engages in more complicated investment ventures, or if you’re self-employed or own rental property, you’ll need to look at the more advanced software.
As a general rule, TurboTax and H&R Block are best suited to complex tax situations. This is not only because they can accommodate more tax profiles, but also because they are strong on support. This can extend to preparing your income taxes directly should you decide the job is beyond your time or knowledge constraints, as well as offering a comprehensive defense in the event of an audit.
Finally, in choosing the right tax software for you, carefully evaluate your understanding of federal income taxes. Most tax software is user-friendly and can help you prepare your return. Even if you have no previous experience with tax preparation, it is important to know your limits.
Should I Hire a Tax Professional?
While tax software is designed for the majority of people, it won’t be the right solution for everyone. If you have a complex situation, own a small business, or don’t know the first thing about filing taxes, it’s best to hire a tax professional.
If there are any aspects of your tax situation that you do not understand, you may be better served by working directly with a paid tax preparer, including a certified public accountant (CPA) if necessary.
What Is the Cost of Tax Software?
Based on the pricing information we have obtained for this review from the six tax software programs included, the cost can range from $0 to $399.
However, this doesn’t mean a free or low-cost tax software will be the best choice for you. Higher-priced software covers a much wider variety of tax situations. For example, the highest-priced plans will cover situations like self-employment and rental real estate. In some cases, the final cost may be higher than the stated cost, which is only a base price. In the case of both TurboTax and H&R Block, you’ll have the option to turn the tax-preparation job over to professional tax preparers for an additional fee. You may also pay extra for a specific audit defense package.
Cost is always an important factor in evaluating tax software, but only to the degree that the software in question will adequately enable you to prepare your own returns.
How to Choose Your Tax Preparation Software
To start, you’ll have to get an idea of what type of help you’ll need.
If you’re a straight W-2 employee with employer-paid healthcare, a simple retirement plan, and planning to take the standard deduction, you don’t need much. The most basic version of any of these tax software options would likely work for you.
But if you need more forms to claim things like mortgage interest deductions, rental income, or business income, you’ll want to dive deeper into what each of these software options offers and how much they’ll cost.
You may also want to look at the long-term benefits, like audit security if your audit risk is high or file storage if you plan to use the same tax software year after year.
We’ll take you through each of our favorite software choices.
Our Research Methodology
We carefully researched and chose each of the best tax software companies listed in our article based on their features, cost, reliability, and suitability.
I’ve never prepared my own taxes before – how can I know if I’ll be able to do it using a tax software program?
Fortunately, most tax software programs are incredibly easy to use. Even if you know nothing about preparing your taxes, the question-and-answer format most use will make the process a breeze. The software will ask you a series of questions, you’ll provide the answers, and all necessary tax forms will be completed. That said, if your tax return is particularly complicated – or you simply don’t feel comfortable with the whole tax-preparation process – you may need to continue using the services of a paid preparer. It will cost you more, but nothing is more important than peace of mind, especially when it comes to your income taxes.
How much money can I save using a tax software program, compared with a paid preparer?
As you can see from our list above, you can get tax software ranging in price from a low of free to a high of just over $100. If you use a paid preparer, you’re probably paying something like $300 for a simple tax return. A moderately complicated return may be in the range of $500 to $800, and a very complicated one can easily run over $1,000. It’ll take some time on your part even with the tax software. But you’ll be able to save hundreds of dollars by finding software you’re comfortable with and going the do-it-yourself route.
How complicated is it to switch from one tax software program to another?
It’s usually not a problem at all. Many tax software programs enable you to import previous year’s tax returns from other programs. Just make certain the tax software you’re planning to switch to has that option. The features table we’ve included in this article will tell you which ones have that capability. If they do, you can import the information in a matter of minutes and be on your way with the new software.
Is tax software for everyone?
The absolutely honest answer is no. If you own a business and have employees, own multiple rental real estate properties, have a significant number of investment transactions, or are a participant in several partnerships, you’ll be better served by using a paid professional. The same will be true if you regularly need to file tax returns in multiple states. This is possible if you earn income, either from investment interests in multiple states, or if you physically transact business in those states. It’s not that the premium tax software programs can’t accommodate those kinds of tax situations, but more that the information requirements are such that they’re better handled by a trained tax professional.
The sophistication of tax software programs is increasing with each year. Tax software can now do nearly all the functions of a live tax preparer and do it for a lot less money. Even if you’ve never prepared your own taxes before, you’ll almost certainly be able to do the job now using the right tax software.
You don’t need to know anything about taxes, the software can walk you through the whole process. You won’t even need to check your numbers – the software can also do that for you. And if you’re missing any information, the software can let you know.
If you’re tired of paying a live tax preparer to do your taxes, let this year be the one you start doing the job yourself. Do it once and you’ll find out just how easy it is. And once you do, you may never go back to a live tax preparer again.