It’s almost tax time and you know what that means:
Time to pick your tax prep software.
It’s not fun, and with more options becoming available, it’s downright confusing. So much to the point that I normally put it off until the week before taxes are due.
Well, now you don’t necessarily have to do that. In this article I am going to compare three of the best, low-cost tax services–TaxAct, H&R Block, and TaxSlayer–so you can decide which, if any, are right for you this tax season.
TaxAct was founded in 1998 and they consider themselves “a leading provider of affordable digital and download tax preparation solutions for individuals, business owners and tax professionals.” TaxAct has a goal of making things easy for you as a tax-paying citizen. They have software you can access online, via download, or on your mobile device. TaxAct also attempts to make the process of filing simple, by walking you through each piece of your taxes, one-by-one and giving you support when you need it.
H&R Block is a bigger company that has been around for a long time. In fact, two brothers formed the company back in 1955 with the goal of giving the public the best-quality tax service possible. They’ve obviously grown since then, having completed more than 720 million tax returns. H&R Block has over 12,000 “company-owned and franchise retail locations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, on U.S. military bases internationally and around the world,” but they also offer a robust online tax preparation service.
Believe it or not, TaxSlayer has been around since 1965–it started as a family-owned tax business. Since then, the company has continued to grow and evolve, as well as change hands of ownership within the family. TaxSlayer has cultivated strong community support and partnerships with key organizations, but their focus remains on providing you with the best tax service possible. They have a bunch of different tax-related products, ranging from individual to military to corporate solutions. Their online tax prep is slick and comes with an intuitive mobile app as well.
- Refund Bonus: If you receive all or part of your tax return on a gift card, TaxAct will give you up to an additional $100 bonus. One of the biggest perks here is that TaxAct has partnered with quite a few places, so you’ll have more than a few options to take advantage of this.
- Fast Simple Returns: If you have a fairly simple return, TaxAct can knock it out for you in about 10 minutes. Even if yours is a bit more complex, they can help you rip through it at warp speed. They pride themselves on this perk.
- Quick Start: If you are switching from TurboTax or H&R Block, you can quickly import last year’s return into TaxAct.
- W-2 Phone Upload: If you have a paper copy of your W-2 and can’t find it online, you can snap a picture of it with your phone using the TaxAct mobile app and they’ll automatically import the information for you–saving you a bunch of time.
- 7 Years of Returns: Access your tax returns from up to seven years in the past. This can be a lifesaver if you get audited or need to collect older tax information quickly.
- Maximum Refund Guarantee: Like many other providers, TaxAct will reimburse you if you get a bigger refund using the exact same inputs somewhere else.
- $100k Guarantee: If TaxAct makes a mistake, you’re covered up to $100,000 including software costs, legal and auditing fees, and they’ll even cover the difference in case of a lower refund or higher tax liability.
- File In-Person and Online: Most of you will want to file online because it can be quicker. However, if you have a complex tax situation or just want to have someone walk through it with you, you have the option of having your taxes done at one of the more than 12,000 H&R Block branch locations.
- Robust Free Filing: H&R Block offers a free version that gives you double the number of forms that a competitor like TurboTax offers. So many people who don’t have complex tax situations can qualify for this.
- Refund Advance: If you can’t wait for your refund, you can get an interest-free loan up to $3,000 on the day you file. This offer doesn’t last forever, though, so you’ll need to check with your local H&R branch to see if you’re still eligible.
- Amazon Refund Bonus: You can put some, or all, of your tax refund into an Amazon gift card. When you do this, H&R Block will bump it up 5%. Meaning if you put $1,000 of your tax return on an Amazon gift card, you’ll get $50 free.
- Pay Nothing out of Pocket: You won’t have to pay your tax preparation fees out of pocket if you don’t want to–H&R Block will allow you to deduct it directly from your tax return.
- Guaranteed Maximum Refund: TaxSlayer guarantees you’ll get the maximum refund possible–if not, they’ll refund you any fees you paid to do your taxes with them.
- Zero Out of Pocket Fees: Instead of paying tax-filing fees out of pocket, TaxSlayer allows you to deduct those fees directly from your tax return. Note that this option can extend your filing time up to 18 days.
- 100% Accuracy Guarantee: If you incur any federal and/or state penalties and interest charges due to a filing error on TaxSlayer’s behalf, they’ll reimburse you.
- Five filing options: TaxSlayer gives you five different options to file (see more information in pricing below) to file your taxes. This is great because you’ll avoid paying for something you don’t need.
- Tax Tools and Resources: TaxSlayer has simple tax tools and services to help you complete your return. This includes things like a Tax Refund Calculator, Tax Law Changes, and IRS Publications.
- TaxSlayer Blog: TaxSlayer also has an excellent blog. They regularly update it with relevant content to keep you informed when it comes to filing your taxes.
TaxAct has five different offerings (though they hide the fifth one for some reason):
- Free – $0 (State additional $19.95): This option is for fast, free filing of simple returns. Includes retirement income.
- Basic+ – $14.95 (State additional $19.95): For filers with dependents, college expenses and more.
- Deluxe+ – $47.95 (State additional $39.95): For homeowners–deductions, credits and adjustments.
- Premier+ – $57.95 (State additional $39.95): Tax preparation for investments and rental property, plus you’ll get prioritized support.
- TaxAct Online 2018 Self Employed+ Edition – $77.95 (State additional $39.95): You have to look for this option, but it’s there. This version is designed to guarantee the maximum tax benefit for self-employed filers, sole proprietors and independent contractors.
H&R Block Pricing
H&R Block obviously has their in-person option (more on this below), but they also offer five pricing tiers for their online tax prep:
- Free online – $0 (State included): The Free online option is best if you have a W‑2, have kids and rent your home.
- Deluxe online – $37.49 (State additional $39.99): Choose this option if you’re a homeowner, need to itemize donations or have an HSA.
- Premium online – $52.49 (State additional $39.99): For freelancers, contractors, and investors.
- Self-employed online – $78.74 (State additional $39.99): The Self-employed online version is best if you’re self-employed and/or own a small business.
- Tax Pro Review – $144.99 (State additional $39.99): This is a new option offered by H&R Block, allowing you to have a tax professional review, sign, and e‑file for you.
With H&R Block, you also have the option of filing in person. They have three different options for doing this:
- In-office (Starting at $59; additional fee per state): You’ll meet one-on-one with a tax professional near you and go through your taxes together.
- Drop‑off service (Starting at $59; additional fee per state): Drop your documents off at your local tax office and they’ll take care of it for you.
- Virtual tax prep (Starting at $49; additional fee per state): Upload your documents from home and the local office will do your taxes.
TaxSlayer too has five main options, but where they differ is offering a Military package:
- Simply Free – $0 (State included): For those who are single, married filing joint, or students, you can file for $0 (simple return).
- Classic – $17 (State additional $29): The most popular option that covers all tax situations and provides the best value overall.
- Premium – $37 (State additional $29): TaxSlayer considers this the fastest way to prepare and e-file your taxes. You’ll also receive priority support if and when you need it.
- Self-Employed – $47 (State additional $29): For those who have a unique self-employment situation, this makes filing your taxes easy.
- Ultimate – $57 (State additional $29): TaxSlayer considers this the ultimate peace of mind for tax filers with defense and protection.
- Military – $0 (State additional $29): Active duty military members can file a federal return for free using TaxSlayer Classic (normally $17). It applies to all tax situations, and all the forms are included.
The sign-up process for each of these services is incredibly fast. The only one you’ll need to spend a little extra time with is H&R Block, and that’s only if you go to a branch.
For example, here’s how quickly I got to the signup page with TaxSlayer:
From here, I enter some basic information and it’ll open an account. Now, you’ll spend more time entering information once you start to do your taxes, but signing up is a breeze.
TaxAct has you enter your email on one screen, then they send you a verification code to proceed, so this will take a bit longer, but feels more secure:
H&R Block took about 10 seconds longer than TaxSlayer to get to the signup screen, which still isn’t bad (about 20 seconds total):
Overall, the signup process for all of these is easy, fast, and basically a no-brainer. You enter some very simple information and it’ll take you to a screen where things get a little more complex (entering your tax information). Thankfully all three of these services have perfected that process, too.
TaxAct takes security incredibly serious. First, they implement things like multi-layer authentication, requiring you to develop a complex password and have the ability to get a secure code texted to you as you log in.
TaxAct also uses technology to help safeguard your information, using systems such as “firewalls, intrusion detection systems, web application firewalls, network isolation, auditing systems, data classifications, and data obfuscation,” and for their physical data center, they use “security guards, access controls, biometrics, man traps, and other security mechanisms.”
Finally, TaxAct has a dedicated security team that works “routinely with state Departments of Revenue and the IRS to help protect your personal data,” and they also “perform regular internal audits throughout the year to ensure our IT systems are maintaining compliance with regulatory standards and TaxSlayer’s Information Security Policy.”
H&R Block says that they’re “committed to protecting your personal data from unauthorized access,” and that they “combine several layers of security technologies and policies to safeguard your most sensitive information.”
This includes systems such as web browsing encryption technology, multi-layer authentication, bank-level encryption technology, secure facilities, a security protection team, and external inspections by top security firms.
TaxSlayer also makes it a huge point to keep you safe and secure. Aside from complex password requirements, you’ll have the ability to set your own security rules, get SSN Notifications, and view a sign-in history. TaxSlayer states that “in addition to identity authentication, vigorous monitoring, and other security processes, TaxAct encrypts your data every time it’s sent to us or the IRS.” Finally, they provide a number of security-related resources for you to brush up on, so you know how to best protect yourself.
TaxAct has a mobile app called TaxAct Express™ for both iPhone® and Android™ devices. The app allows you to “prepare and e-file your federal and state tax returns on your smartphone.” According to TaxAct, some of the key features include a redesigned W-2 capture, Touch ID / Face ID support for quick and secure log-in experience, and the ability to switch seamlessly from app to desktop and pick up right where you left off.
H&R Block has its H&R Block Tax Prep app which allows you to “prep and file your taxes anytime, anywhere with the expertise of H&R Block in a mobile app.” It doesn’t really have a ton of special features, but you can do your entire tax return from your mobile device.
TaxSlayer has a mobile app that gives you the ability to “calculate your refund and prepare for tax season early” and file your taxes directly from your phone when you’re ready. The estimator allows you to estimate your tax refund by simply using your W-2 or paycheck information. Again, nothing super sexy here, but a nice looking app that allows you to do your taxes on your phone.
TaxAct does an adequate job at offering support by giving you both email and phone options to get help. They do make you dig through their FAQs to find the phone number (which is 319-373-3600 by the way) so they’re definitely pushing using the self-research path. They’re typically open Monday through Friday 8 AM to 5 PM EST, except during the heavy tax season, they’ll open until 8 PM and open up on weekends, too.
H&R Block by far has the best customer support amongst the three, offering email, phone, and in-person options to talk to someone. You can call a local branch or call their 800 number and you can also use their self-service FAQ section to get answers immediately.
I wasn’t crazy about TaxSlayer’s customer service options. Currently, you can only email their support or use their existing knowledgebase section which tries to cover any and all topics you might have questions on. The email support can take up to 72 hours to get a response, too, which is frustrating if you need a quick answer.
Each service will cater to someone different, but I’ll try to steer you in the right direction. If you need the personal touch, definitely go with H&R Block. You can walk into a branch and have someone physically do your taxes right in front of you. You also have the option of a drop off which is nice.
If you are just looking to save money and don’t have anything too complex, TaxAct is pretty cheap but doesn’t offer as many of the frills as you’d see with something like Turbotax (but you get what you pay for).
Finally, if you’re looking for something in-between, or something that offers a military option, go with TaxSlayer. They’ve been around for a long time, have a great interface and app, and offer competitive pricing.