We Tested The Top Four Tax Programs. This Was Our Favorite One

We Tested The Top Four Tax Programs. This Was Our Favorite One

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April 18 — tax day — is a day you won’t want to forget in 2022 (or April 19 if you happen to live in Massachusetts or Maine). And while it’s a chore most of us dread, for better or worse, your taxes will be due before you know it. To make your life less chaotic, you might consider using an online tax program, which can take all your income and expense numbers, calculate your total tax and even electronically file your return for you.

But with many online tax programs available, which one should you use? To help you out, two years ago we tested the top four programs by completing the entire process of entering our tax information, then compared the results to that of a tax professional to see if the programs could get you the same (or better) results. This year again, we revisited those same programs and explored their new features to see if our verdict remains the same.

Best tax software overall

Throughout the entire process, TurboTax is the easiest to use, helping you figure out which forms you need in a customer-friendly way and offering live customer support whenever you need it (although it might cost you).

Best free tax software

Although all four tax preparation programs offer free versions, H&R Block gives you access to the most forms without a charge.

Cheapest tax software

Regardless of the complexity of your taxes, TaxSlayer offers the lowest prices across the board. TaxSlayer costs no more than $48 for your Federal return, even for the most complex tax situation.

Best tax software guarantee

When it comes to a guarantee, TaxAct blows all the other programs out of the water. While all four programs are marketed as 100% accurate, TaxAct goes further by offering up to $100,000 in reimbursement if their software fails to provide accurate results.

Each program offers four different filing options based on the complexity of your taxes. And although they cover many of the same forms and deductions, there are some differences, and quite a spread when it comes to price.

This chart lists out those options along with their respective prices at the “do it yourself” level. Some of the programs are also available to purchase via Amazon or your local office supply store at a cheaper price, though you’ll only be able to “try before you buy” at each tax program’s website.

Free/Simple Tax Return Deluxe/Classic Tax Return Premier/Premium Tax Return Self Employed/Small BusinessTax Return Best Uses Best for those with W-2 income, dependents, education expenses and retirement income Best for homeowners and those who want to maximize credits and deductions Best for freelancers and those with investments or rental property Best for those with business income TurboTax $0 (includes one state) $39 (+$39 per state) $69 (+$39 per state) $89 (+$39 per state) H&R Block $0 (includes one state) $29.99 (+$36.99 per state) $49.99 (+$36.99 per state) $84.99 (+$36.99 per state) TaxSlayer $0 (includes one state) $17.95 (+$36.95 per state) $37.95 (+$36.95 per state) $47.95 (+$36.95 per state) TaxAct $0 (+$39.95 per state) $24.95 (+$44.95 per state) $34.95 (+$44.95 per state) $64.95 (+$44.95 per state) Note: Prices reflect software purchased directly from the vendors and include discounts available as of this writing when using the links in this story. These discounts are subject to change or to be discontinued at any time. Prices may also be lower through third-party retailers. “Best Uses” information is provided for guidance only, as there may be slight variations between programs. The basics of these programs don’t change much from year to year, so if you have a very straightforward tax situation — a W-2 from a job and perhaps some interest or dividend income — all of these programs offer a free option that will likely work for you (although TaxAct no longer offers a free option for filing a state return).

Not many forms are included at the most basic level, though H&R Block provides the most forms under this no-cost filing option. On the flip side, H&R Block will also work hardest at trying to sell extra options to you throughout the process, so “free” might not end up being truly free if you decide to take them up on one or more of their pitches.

If you have relatively simple taxes but still more than what’s allowed in the free versions, all of the basic-level paid options will work just fine, so cost might be your biggest factor when selecting one of the four. Since professional accountant support typically isn’t needed when it comes to a simple tax situation, TaxSlayer should be your go-to for its low-cost option.

However, if you have more complex taxes — which could include running a small business, having numerous deductions or owning lots of real estate — you’ll want to put cost aside and use TurboTax. TurboTax is hands down the most customer-friendly option with an easy-to-use platform.

But you may find you’ll need to pay some of TurboTax’s add-on fees to ensure the most accurate results, meaning you might be better off just handing over your tax documents to an accountant to save the headache. Taxes are complicated, and making sure you get everything accurate while maximizing your deductions is just that: complicated.

From the moment you arrive at the TurboTax website, the company holds your hand to help you figure out the right software version to use for your specific taxes. The site asks a number of questions about common financial items — such as whether or not you have a job, pay rent, pay student loans, sold stock, have children and more — which will then automatically populate into the TurboTax version you need to get started.

Out of all four tax programs, entering my W-2 information was by far the easiest with TurboTax. With some of the other programs, I had to manually enter each line item from my W-2 form, but not with TurboTax. By just entering my employer ID and the dollar amount from box 1, the program was able to automatically import my entire W-2 and populate all the required boxes. If TurboTax doesn’t recognize your employer’s EIN, you can also take a photo of your W-2 form using the TurboTax mobile app.

I was also able to import some of my 1099-INT and 1099-DIV forms by logging into my respective financial institution websites right from the TurboTax site. This made the process seamless and ensured all information was entered correctly.

My personal taxes are on the complicated side, and TurboxTax’s search feature was a huge help. Since not every form was presented to me throughout the process, I had to do some digging to find some of the more uncommon ones. But TurboTax has a great search feature, which allows you to enter the form name and you’ll immediately be taken to that form. This was definitely unique to TurboTax, and made entering all my forms much easier.

Unfortunately though, TurboTax no longer offers the same complimentary live tax advice options it used to have with its three paid versions. Instead, there’s a paid upgrade option — called TurboTax Live — which costs an extra $79 to $199 depending on the complexity of your taxes. This service offers to have a tax expert review your return line-by-line, and to speak to them throughout the year with questions.

While most of these software programs offer some level of guidance, in my experience TurboTax provided excellent help — despite now having to pay for it. I did my TurboTax work late at night, and I wanted to test their TurboTax Live feature. With just a 5-minute wait, I was able to speak to an attorney with eight years of experience. I was also able to share my screen with their representative, who guided me to the correct form by highlighting the steps on my screen.

TurboTax Live is available during most waking hours in the US — 8 a.m to 10 p.m. Mountain time, 7 days a week. But truthfully, we found TurboTax’s online resources were more than adequate to answer any questions we had, making the Live support not a necessity unless you also want the CPA review at the end.

In addition to the paid TurboTax Live service, if you get fed up with doing your own taxes at any point during the process, you can offload the whole thing to a tax expert who will finish it for you — called TurboTax Live Full Service. The cost of this service is quite expensive at $199 to $389, depending on which version your taxes require. At that cost, you might want to compare pricing to a local tax expert to see which one offers the best price.

However, if you have a very basic return that only requires TurboTax’s free version (basically if you only need to file Form 1040), and you’re able to get your taxes done in the next month and file by March 31, right now TurboTax will have a CPA review your return at no cost. In fact, you can even use the TurboTax Live Full Service feature for free if using the “basic” version — as long as you file by March 31. That means if you can get ahead of the game, this is a great opportunity to have someone else truly do your taxes for you at no cost.

Despite TurboTax being the most expensive product across the board, the three paid levels are currently discounted by $20 to $30 through February 28 if you purchase directly with TurboTax through the links in this story. (These discounts are as of this writing and can change at any time.)

Best free tax software: H&R Block ($28.44 for Deluxe + State version; amazon.com) Even if your taxes are a step up from simple, you still might be able to file through H&R Block’s free filing option, since it includes Schedules 1, 2 and 3, which are some of the more common forms required by many taxpayers. This allows you to cover child and dependent care expenses, student loan interest deductions, tuition and fee statements and unemployment income. With many of other tax programs, you may have to pay for the mid-tier service in order to access these options.

However, while many people should be able to use the free option, H&R Block does regularly try to upsell you. Compared to the other programs, it has significantly more pop-ups offering the chance to buy partner apps or additional tax services. You can ignore them, but they do become a bit annoying.

A few years ago, we felt that one of the downsides to H&R Block’s software was that the interface wasn’t very user-friendly. Fortunately, as of last year, the program has a new look and feel, which greatly improves the experience. For instance, I found it much easier this year to use the search function to find forms I had trouble finding in the past.

If filling your taxes on your own proves to be more complex than you thought, H&R Block offers two options to help ease the process. The first is unlimited live expert help, including the ability to share your screen and communicate via on-demand chat or video support. This add-on service normally costs $69.99, but it’s currently discounted to $39.99 as of this writing.

When we tested this feature out, we found it useful, but the wait time was significantly longer than some of the other products. On a Thursday morning in the middle of February — well before most people start thinking about taxes — I waited exactly 24 minutes before an expert was available to help me. To have to wait this long every single time a question pops up would be extremely frustrati

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