As you get ready to prepare your taxes for the 2021 tax year, you’ll likely be confronted with a myriad of choices. Unless you’re sticking to the tax filing software you’ve used for years, you’ll want to check out what the market holds at the moment, especially if you want to save a few bucks on your tax filing process.
Here, we’ll review two of the most popular options: TurboTax and H&R Block compared with a newer, and often more affordable, option: TaxAct.
We’ll talk about the features, pros and cons of each product so you can make the best choice for your needs.
TurboTax vs. H&R Block vs. TaxAct Overview
|Price Range (Federal)||$0 to $200||$0 to $84.99||$0 to $64.95|
|Price Range (State)||$0 to $49||$0 to $36.99||$0 to $44.95|
Editor’s note: Pricing listed in this article is correct as of April 29, 2020.
What Do They Do?
Each of these three tax preparation software options helps you quickly and easily file your taxes. They all come with various levels, which give you access to different tax forms and filing options. If you’re a business owner, for instance, you’ll need to pay more to file your taxes because they’re more complicated.
Each option here has a simple interface that will walk you through your taxes form by form, so that you can file them in a reasonable amount of time without missing anything important. At their heart, TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all offer the same type of tax-filing experience. But they do have some features that set them apart. Read on to find out more.
TurboTax vs. H&R Block vs. TaxAct: Product Features
TurboTax rolled out a couple of unique and interesting features fairly recently. One is the ability to see your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and overall income for the tax year when you file. These numbers can be helpful for getting a handle on your financial health and making plans for your financial future.
TurboTax also offers a live filing option with each of their versions, so you can get assistance from a real tax expert as you’re filling out your taxes. This is a great option if you need some extra assistance or assurance but don’t want to pay a CPA to completely file your taxes for you.
And, of course, TurboTax features the slick interface and built-in guidance it’s known for. While it’s not my filing software of choice anymore, when I first started filing my own taxes as a freelancer, that guidance was invaluable. So if your tax situation is complicated and you don’t want to miss any potential deductions, it could be the software for you.
Like TurboTax, H&R Block is now offering live tax experts to help as part of its packages. It’s an upgrade that you can add to any level of their tax filing product, so you can still get tax expert help at a reasonable price. And if you really get stuck on your taxes, you can take them to one of H&R Blocks’ thousands of locations for in-person help.
H&R Blocks interface and guidance have improved over the last few years, but they still aren’t as good as TurboTax’s. Still, you can file forms as you go, and H&R Block will let you skip around but remind you to fill in all the forms you need to for your taxes. And they’ll give you a Price Preview as you go so that you’ll know how much you’ll owe at the end when you add additional services or need to upgrade your package.
As this is the cheapest option on our list, you’d expect that it would also have the least features. And that’s true. With that said, TaxAct offers a nice interface and guidance on filing your taxes, W-2 import options, the ability to import last year’s tax return from another preparer, and a better mobile app than last year. Plus if you filed on TaxAct last year, you can now get access to prior year returns for up to seven years after filing.
As with these other options, what you get with TaxAct depends partly on which version you pay for, and it has some interesting options for individuals that could help you save money.
TurboTax vs. H&R Block vs. TaxAct: Pricing and Fees
This is an area that will set these three options apart the most. Here’s a quick glance at each company’s options and the prices of those options:
|Free||Simple returns||$0 Federal, $0 State|
|Deluxe||More deductions, including mortgage and property taxes||$39 Federal, $39 State|
|Premier||Stocks, bonds, other investments, rental property income and expenses||$69 Federal, $39 State|
|Self-Employed||Personal and small business income and expenses||$89 Federal, $39 State|
|Basic||Simple tax returns||$40 Federal, $40 State|
|Deluxe||Additional deductions, including homeowner deductions||$70 Federal, $40 State|
|Premier||Stocks, bonds, other investments, rental income and expenses||$100 Federal, $40 State|
|Self-Employed||Personal and small business income and expenses||$110 Federal, $40 State|
|Free||Basic taxes plus child-related deductions||$0 Federal, $0 State|
|Deluxe||Includes deductions for homeowners, donations and HSAs||$29.99 Federal, $36.99 State|
|Premium||Investment deductions and simple schedule Cs for freelancers and contractors||$49.99 Federal, $36.99 State|
|Self-Employed||Personal and small business income and expenses||$84.99 Federal, $36.99 State|
|Free||Basic taxes plus retirement income||$0 Federal, $0 State|
|Deluxe+||Homeowner’s deductions and other credits/deductions||$24.95 Federal, $44.95 State|
|Premier+||Investments and rental property||$34.95 Federal, $44.95 State|
|Self-Employed+||Small business and personal income and expenses||$64.95 Federal, $44.95 State|
Resource: Cheapest Tax Software
The process of signing up for each of these platforms is very similar. You’ll need to create an account and confirm your email address. And then you’ll need to input your basic personal information to get started. With each option, you can start out with the version you think will suit you best. Then if you need to add additional forms while mid-way through your taxes, you can do that and upgrade. You’ll pay for the service at the end, when you actually file your taxes.
Again, these three options score similarly here. They all use two-factor authentication if you sign in from a device they don’t recognize. And they all use bank-level encryption and data security practices to keep your data secure as it is stored in the system and transferred to the IRS.
If you’d prefer to file your taxes on your phone, you’re in luck. All three of these platforms have a mobile app you can use to do that. TurboTax and TaxAct both let you file your taxes on their mobile apps, which feature the same security as their online versions. And you can switch between your phone and laptop to file your taxes, if that works for you.
H&R Block actually has two mobile apps. The Tax Prep app lets you prepare and file your taxes, regardless of which version of H&R Blocks software you need to use. But they also have a MyBlock app that you can use to check your Emerald Card balance if you receive your tax refund in this way, or to upload tax documents throughout the year.
Customer Service and Support
TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all have customer support available through multiple channels. For instance, you can check their online databases for frequently asked questions about your taxes. And you can reach customer service through email, phone, or online, depending on the version of each software you choose. With TaxAct, Premier+ and above versions get you access to priority customer support.
Keep in mind that customer support is generally for the software itself and any glitches or other issues you might encounter there. If you want actual tax advice from a qualified tax professional, you’ll need to upgrade to those services with H&R Block or TurboTax.
Pros and Cons
Each of these options has its own pros and cons. Here are the ones to highlight from each:
TurboTax Pros and Cons
- Simple interface. In spite of other software starting to catch up, TurboTax still has the best interface, in my opinion. And it has a ton of built-in advice to help you walk through any tax situation.
- Excellent option for complex taxes. TurboTax has additional options you can purchase for audit protection, so if your taxes are more complex or audit-prone, it can be a great option. Plus, it has lots of built-in checks to ensure you’re getting the most out of your taxes, regardless of your situation.
- It’s the most expensive listed. TurboTax consistently comes out as one of the most expensive tax software options around. And when you add in additional services like CPA advice, you’ll pay a great deal more.
H&R Block Pros and Cons:
- Less expensive CPA option. If you want a live CPA to review your taxes before you file, H&R Block may be the way to go. This service is under $150, making it much cheaper than some of the higher-paid TurboTax Live versions.
- Price preview. Sometimes when you’re adding more options onto your tax filing software, it’s unclear what your actual payment will be at the end of the process. H&R Blocks Price Preview keeps you from being shocked at your actual payment when you’re ready to check out.
- Less user-friendly interface. This interface has improved greatly, but it’s still not as user-friendly as TurboTax’s.
- More expensive option. H&R Block isn’t typically as expensive as TurboTax, depending on the combination of forms and services you’re getting. But it’s still one of the most expensive options on the market.
TaxAct Pros and Cons:
- Cheap. TaxAct is on the complete other end of the spectrum when it comes to the costs of filing your taxes.
- Easy to use. For cheaper software, TaxAct actually has a pretty good systematic way of walking you through your taxes. So unless you have a very complicated situation, you won’t miss out on much by paying much less to file your taxes.
- Less help available. If you do need to call in reinforcements in the form of a live CPA, you may have to start over if you begin with TaxAct. They have a screen-sharing option where a tax professional can ensure you’re entering things correctly and understand a form correctly, but they won’t give you actual tax advice.
Which Is Best for You?
Since you probably came to this article to figure out which of these three options might serve you best, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. If you know what you’re doing, at least mostly, with your taxes, you can probably get by with any of these three options very well. And you’ll likely get similar results in your actual taxes.
But that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t better than others.
If you’re on a budget or have simpler taxes, go with TaxAct.
This is obviously the most affordable option in most cases. But if your taxes are more complicated or you’re unsure of what you need to do for them, you may ultimately save money by moving to a platform that is more expensive but includes more guidance. However, if you’re an old hand at filing your taxes as a small business owner, investor, or freelancer, you’ll be fine with TaxAct and save money, too.
H&R Blocks CPA versions are much cheaper at the higher levels, but TurboTax is cheaper at the lower levels. If you have basic taxes, though, you’re less likely to need live advice. Getting your taxes done well is mainly about being sure that you have all your forms together, and that you deal with each of them as part of your tax filing process.
But if you do have more complex taxes, H&R Blocks CPA option is an excellent way to get more assurance that you’re doing things correctly without totally breaking the bank.
If you need to file more complicated taxes at a cheaper price, opt for the Block.
As you can see on the above price list, H&R Block is the mid-range option but offers most of the same features as TurboTax. And the interface is really only a little less user-friendly than TurboTax’s. So it’s a great option if you need more guidance but don’t want to pay as much as you’d pay for TurboTax.
Resource: Best Tax Software
Choosing the right tax software is really all about knowing your options and understanding what you need. Using comparisons like this one, you can choose the best tax software that will save you the most money on your taxes.