Does a turtle move faster than you can file taxes? Go from turtle to turbo this year. We’ll review the five versions of TurboTax below along with the cost and discounts.
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I’ve used TurboTax to file my taxes for the past several years. As a freelancer with a day job, my taxes are more complicated than most. But I’m still able to file them on my own with Intuit’s software. It adds some great new features every year, and it’s always available in multiple versions, each with its own price point. With the step-by-step software, it’s easy to file your taxes without missing anything.
One interesting new feature available with TurboTax paid versions this year is Turbo. This interesting tool gives you access to, as TurboTax notes, “the three numbers that matter.” In short, you’ll be able to see your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and overall income. These are helpful numbers for financial planning, and when you pay for TurboTax, you can get them all for free.
TurboTax always features a great interface, and it just keeps making things easier to use so that you can file your taxes more quickly and accurately.
The TurboTax Live version definitely isn’t new anymore, having been out for a couple of years. But it lets you file your taxes with the assistance of a real CPA, and it’s a great value for your money if you feel like you need additional help on your taxes. Plus, you can get unlimited help and advice all year when you choose this filing option.
The TurboTax Live option comes in several different levels, too, just like the regular TurboTax software. So their Basic, Deluxe, Premier, and Self-Employed versions can all be upgraded to live help for those versions. That way you can stay at a reasonable price point for your particular tax situation but still get additional help. We’ll talk more about these options in the sections below.
Of course, as with all reputable tax software, you can count on TurboTax to update and stay current with the latest tax laws and information. And that’s a big deal with this year’s tax overhaul.
As with most tax services, TurboTax comes with several different levels of service, depending on your needs. Some taxes are more complex to file than others, so you’ll pay more for these services. Not sure what you need? Here are the basic levels TurboTax is offering in 2019:
Your taxes have to be pretty simple to qualify for this level with TurboTax, but it’s an excellent deal. You can file both your federal and state income taxes for free as long as you meet the following qualifications:
- Have only W-2 income and/or limited 1099-INT or 1099-DIV income
- Claim the standard deduction
- May take the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- May have child tax credits
Of course, this is very basic. However, if you meet these qualifications, this product will cover everything you need.
This year, you can use the free edition to file for a few basic credits and deductions. This includes the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), child and dependent care credits, and child tax credit.
This is the most common option for TurboTax customers. If you don’t meet the qualifications for the free deal, chances are likely you’ll fall into this category.
Besides basic forms, this option includes Schedule A which allows you to file for various deductions and credits. This includes the mortgage and property tax deductions. Deluxe is built primarily for homeowners. But it gives you access to any itemized deductions that fall on Schedule A.
If you have a fairly streamlined business or side income as a freelancer, Deluxe may work for you. It gives you access to Schedule C, Schedule C-EZ, and Schedule SE. These are the forms for profit or loss from your business and the self-employment tax. You can use these forms when you have business income but no business expenses.
In the past, I’ve paid extra for the Home & Business version, which allowed for a home office deduction and other complications. The past two years, though, my freelance work has become the side gig to my W-2 day job. Because of this, I used TurboTax Deluxe last year. It saved me a bit of money, and worked perfectly for my needs.
You should know that you don’t have to determine ahead of time which version of TurboTax to use. You can start out on Deluxe, for instance, but if you find that it doesn’t include deductions for which you qualify, you can bump yourself to Premier later. No payment is due until you actually file your taxes, so jumping up isn’t a problem.
In fact, it’s easier to upgrade mid-filing than it is to downgrade. So if you’re waffling between Deluxe and Premier, consider starting out on Deluxe, and then jump up later if you need it.
Right now, the Deluxe option is $39.99, though the regular price is $59.99. File early to take advantage of the discount price!
Add TurboTax Live: If you want to upgrade your Deluxe package to TurboTax Live, it’ll cost $89.99 right now, with a regular price of $119.99. With this version, you can review your mortgage taxes and 350+ other deductions and credits with a CPA, and the CPA or EA will review your taxes before you file.
If you’ve followed Dough Roller’s advice and invested heavily this year, TurboTax Premier may be the software you need. This option covers everything included in Deluxe, but it also covers Schedules D and E.
Schedule D is used for stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investment income. This schedule in TurboTax automatically imports investment income, including cost basis, which makes your tax filing life much simpler. One interesting new feature will also help you accurately account for gains and losses from cryptocurrency if you’ve invested in any of this during the year.
Schedule E is used to record income and expenses related to rental properties. If you’re a landlord, this is the option you want. It also lets you deduct points and appraisal fees if you refinance your home. So it’s a must-have if you took advantage of 2018’s still-low mortgage rates.
Premier is currently priced at $59.99, but is regularly $79.99.
Add TurboTax Live: Upgrading the Premier version to TurboTax Live will cost $139.99, regularly $169.99. Again, this gives the CPA or EA access to all the same information you can file using the Premier version. So this is great if you want to be sure you’re filing correctly as an investor or a landlord.
If you run a larger business or have employees, you’re out of luck with TurboTax and most other tax filing software. You’ll need a real accountant to make sure your taxes are filed properly. But for a small business owner or sole proprietor, the Self-Employed version may include everything you need.
This version includes everything in the Premier version, and adds Schedule C, where you report business income and expenses. This schedule will work even if you have relatively large expenses or are dealing with asset depreciation. The asset depreciation function is especially nice, as I found when using this version of TurboTax the last few years to depreciate some of the tech I use for freelancing.
One interesting feature of this version is that it lets you import your business’s information directly from QuickBooks Self-Employed. If you already use the accounting software to track expenses, mileage, and more, you can pull that data right to your TurboTax account.
The regular price of TurboTax Self-Employed is $119.99, but you can get it for $89.99 right now.
Add TurboTax Live: This is the priciest option available at $169.99, regularly $199.99. But that’s still probably cheaper than hiring an actual tax accountant to do your taxes for you. With TurboTax Live in this version, you can get advice on making the most of your business deductions so you get a bigger refund–or at least you won’t have to write as large of a check.
As noted throughout this review, TurboTax Live is no longer its own version of TurboTax. Instead for this tax year, you can choose which version of TurboTax Live you want to access. Upgrading to this service gives you access to a live CPA or EA to review your taxes and ask your questions. The level you choose will just determine which forms, deductions, and types of income the CPA or EA will assist you with.
Each level of TurboTax gives you access to additional tax forms, custom prompts, and fill-in-the-blanks to assist you in filing those forms. But all versions also come with additional benefits, including:
- W-2 Auto Fill: If you work for a relatively large employer, chances are that TurboTax can find your W-2 information for you automatically. This doesn’t work with every employer, but it is handy for some.
- E-File: E-filing keeps you out of the super-long post office line in early April. It may get you a refund faster, too. Typically, you can e-file both your federal and state taxes, though filing state taxes may cost more.
- 24/7 Access: TurboTax gives you access to your tax forms all the time online. This is handy if you want to fill them out a bit at a time, rather than in one sitting. It also makes it easy to print off additional copies of your tax returns if you’re buying a home or filling out other major paperwork in the coming years.
Additional benefits for the paid levels of TurboTax include:
- ExplainWhy: These pop-ups within the TurboTax software show you “why” certain things are the way they are when you file your taxes.
- My Analysis and Advice: This service will analyze your tax history for the year and will explain how you can take steps to maximize your tax refund in the coming year.
One thing I’ve always liked about using TurboTax is its interface. It’s clean and easy to use. Plus it walks you through each part of the process step-by-step. For me, TurboTax has always provided the right level of support. But it isn’t too in-my-face with tips, tricks, and tutorials.
For instance, if you sit down to do your taxes all at once, you can walk through each step of the process in the order TurboTax gives it to you. It’s intuitive and makes sense. For me, though, I often take steps out of order. I fill in various W-2s and 1099s as they come in. It’s easy to skip around to the steps you want to work on. And TurboTax won’t let you file without at least checking on each step.
This year, the interface of the Self-Employed version, which I’m using, looks a bit the same as last year’s with the tabs on top of the screen, like this.
This holds true for the individual sections, too. Here’s what the deductions section looks like this year:
As I noted before, the software will walk you through every single step, or allow you to explore on your own. It’ll give you this option each time you log in to start a new session.
If you’re filing a little at a time, you might start by exploring on your own. Fill in information for the forms that you have. Then when you’re ready to complete your filing, let the software walk you through everything to ensure you aren’t missing any critical information or potential deductions.
One of the best parts about using TurboTax multiple years in a row is that it will import much of your information from prior years. For instance, I won’t have to fill out much personal information this year. I’ll just double check it and call it done.
TurboTax will also allow you to pull in information from W-2 and 1099 forms, if they match the last year’s forms. If your employer or contract clients stayed the same, TurboTax will pull in the employer name and EIN. Then it’ll walk you through filling in the information from those W-2s or 1099s.
If you work for a participating employer, TurboTax can automatically pull in actual financial information from your W-2s. Again, this is a nice time-saving step. If you can’t find the information, it’ll tell you which box to look at on each tax form page. Then, the software will guide you through questions to fill out each part of your taxes.
Sometimes, TurboTax preempts issues in the language of the questions. To be thorough, they have to be sure to ask everything, even some questions that seem silly or irrelevant, like this one:
I like that they clarify the issue at stake as part of the question, since it does seem silly to ask if my four-year-old is self-supporting.
Now, we’ll look at a few of the interesting additions for this year, including healthcare.
Since every American is supposed to have been insured in 2018, you’ll need to fill out information about your healthcare using this part of the form. This year’s health insurance form looks the same as last year’s:
If you answer that one or more family members was insured for only part of the year, it’ll ask which months you were insured. You just click the boxes to mark the months you were insured.
Then, the interface will tell you whether or not you will owe a penalty for not being insured.
Curious about what kind of deductions you might be looking at this year? Check out the free TurboTax TaxCaster. The TaxCaster is a really detailed estimate that includes information about potential deductions to give you an idea of what you might get back or owe. At the end of the sequence, the TaxCaster will tell you which TurboTax edition will likely work best for you.
If you decide to walk through deductions on your own, you’ll see a screen like this. In fact, any time you choose to walk through the steps on your own, you’ll come to a similar screen that will let you pick and choose which topics you want to deal with.
Once you’re done with your taxes, you can run an audit check. It’ll basically tell you the likelihood that you’ll be audited, based on red flags in your filing.
What happens if you are audited?
You can get some free help from TurboTax support, including information on notices, letters to write, and what to do next. The Audit Support Center includes lots of information for a DIY approach to handling an IRS audit.
This year, TurboTax is offering an add-on service called MAX. This optional service, which costs an extra $49.99, includes several features:
- Audit Defense: This gives you a dedicated team to handle an audit if this should happen to you. Your return for 2016 is covered for as long as it can possibly be audited.
- Tax Identity Restoration: If someone files with your SSN to get a refund before you have a chance to file, an Identity Restoration Specialist will help you get your identity restored and your refund back to your bank account.
- Identity Theft Monitoring: Tax season is prime time for identity theft. If TurboTax finds suspicious activity related to your identity online, you’ll be notified. And you’ll get a dedicated specialist to help you take the steps to protect your identity.
- Priority Care: You’ll get bumped to the top of the line when you call to ask any tax-related questions.
- Identity Loss Insurance: You could be reimbursed for up to $250,000 in stolen funds due to identity theft, plus up to $1 million to pay for related legal fees and expenses.
Related: LifeLock Review – How to Protect Your Identity
You will need to add Max to your checkout before you wrap up your taxes and pay TurboTax, so be sure to look for it in the Review section if you’re interested.
As you file your taxes, you’ll see a Live Tax Advice button in the top right corner. This is where you can add the TurboTax Live services to your package as you file. So even if you don’t think you’ll need the help before you start filing, you can add the service during your filing process so that you can start asking questions right away.
As with most tax software, TurboTax has serious security to protect your personal data. They use multi-factor authentication, which means you’ll get a single-use code if you sign into your account from a new device. This helps protect your account from fraud. You can also use touch ID with the mobile app if your phone supports it.
Besides this, TurboTax uses SSL data encryption that goes above and beyond the IRS’s standards. And you can see and change your account security settings. Plus, if important changes are made to your account, you’ll be notified immediately. And TurboTax gives you access to your full account login and device activity, so you can check for potential problems if you suspect one.
TurboTax has a full mobile app. You can do everything–choose your version and file your taxes from your phone or tablet using the app. And you can download the app for free and pay only when you file. If you download the app on an Apple device, you can pay using Apple Pay.
Customer service is available through several channels. They offer an online forum where you can find many answers immediately. Or you can contact them online, via email, or by phone. They generally have good customer service reviews.
Remember, though, that technical customer service is different from their actual tax advice. If you need help with your taxes, you’ll need to pay an additional fee for the live CPA advice. But if your problem is a technical one, you can contact customer service to solve it.
- Easy to use. TurboTax is intuitive, has a great interface, and it helps you walk through all of your possible tax situations.
- Trustyworthy. The software is reputable and you can count on it to be up-to-date with the latest tax laws. With TurboTax Live, you also have the ability to file your taxes with the assistance of a real CPA.
- Great for complicated tax situations. If you’re not sure how to file your taxes or which deductions you’ll be able to take to save money, TurboTax can guide you through this.
- It can be pricey. Generally the only con of TurboTax is that it is one of the more expensive products on the market. With that said, the cost differential from similar services isn’t too high. So for many people, it will be worthwhile.
- Tax advice is extra. Customer service is only available for technical assistance. For CPA advice, you’ll need to pay extra to upgrade to TurboTax Live.
There are, of course, lots of alternatives on the market these days. H&R Block is probably the closest option on the market right now, and it’s also the closest in price. Other, cheaper alternatives include TaxAct, Tax Slayer, and FreeTaxUSA. Check out our individual reviews of these products to decide which one would work best for your needs.
The bottom line here is that TurboTax has managed to come up with a great, user-friendly tax-filing software yet again. With the various levels of service available, it can work for nearly anyone.
Not sure which level you need? Start with the most basic option, and work your way up as needed. Since you don’t pay until you actually file, you can always upgrade. Downgrading is often more difficult, though, so it’s best to start with a more affordable option than you think you need. That way, you don’t wind up accidentally paying for services you don’t really need.
As always, be sure you follow each step in the process and have TurboTax double check for holes you forgot to fill out. And if you have questions, ask. Get help from the support available through TurboTax, or take your taxes to a professional who will file them in person if things get really complicated. It’s better to pay a bit more to file your taxes on the front end than it is to risk a gross overpayment or an audit!