The dreaded tax season is upon us, and you might be stressing already. Thankfully, if you have a laptop and an internet connection, you can use tax preparation software to prepare and file taxes at home in your pajamas. Even better, you might be eligible for free tax services, too. So if you’re wondering which product — and which version of that product — is best for your individual needs, you can find out here.
GOBankingRates has broken down six leading tax-preparation software products and services — including free options — and included their prices so you can find the best one for your needs. Help for taxpayers is out there — and it can be pretty cheap, too. Here are a few tax software reviews to consider as you research the best tax software and filing options for your 2016 return.
Perhaps the best-known tax software on the market, TuboTax is by no means the least expensive. It offers some great features that make it easy to use, though, such as the ability to input your W-2 by snapping a picture of it with your phone or tablet. Also, if you’re unlucky enough to get audited, TurboTax offers free, one-on-one advice. You can also sync your online info to other devices so you can access it anywhere, anytime — so you can even do your taxes at the beach.
Another cool TurboTax feature is SmartLook, which is included with most of the products. With SmartLook, a live TurboTax expert answers your questions, and even virtually draws on your screen to make sure his answers are clear.
Depending on the version of software you choose, you could pay nothing or up to $127 or more to do your taxes through TurboTax. Here’s how much using the TurboTax software will cost you.
- Federal Free Edition: $0, plus $0 for state returns — designed for those using 1040EZ or 1040A forms
- Deluxe: $34.99, additional $36.99 per state — designed for those whose taxes include mortgage or property tax, itemized deductions, donation deductibles, etc.
- Premier: $54.99, additional $36.99 per state — designed for filers with investments and rental property
- Home and Business: $89.99, additional $36.99 per state — designed for small business owners and independent contractors who use Schedule C
Downloadable and CD Versions
- Basic: $29.99, additional $39.99 per state, plus $24.99 for state e-file; free federal e-file
- Deluxe: $59.99, one free state, $39.99 for each additional state; $24.99 to e-file the state return
- Premier: $89.99, one free state, $39.99 per additional state; $24.99 to e-file state return
- Home and Business: $99.99, one free state, $39.99 per additional state; $24.99 to e-file state return
- Sophisticated software with a lot of bells and whistles
- Live chat help
- Optional audit advice
- Costs more than some competitors’ software
- Program might allow incomplete tax forms and missing information
- Some forms and schedules possibly not supported
H&R Block Review
Another familiar name in the tax-preparation game, H&R Block’s online software offers many great features — such as snapping a photo of your W-2 to input your financial data. H&R Block also offers a guarantee that you’ll receive the maximum refund possible. Like TurboTax, you can download the software or file online, or you can choose to visit a brick-and-mortar office.
H&R Block offers free, unlimited chat support, and to expedite your return, you can import data from your 2015 tax return into your return for tax year 2016. If you do choose to visit a branch location for your tax preparation, you could qualify for an interest-free advance of up to $1,250 against your refund.
H&R Block Pricing
See if you can afford the H&R Block fees for filing. How much you’ll pay ranges from $0 to $79.95 and up.
- Free: Free federal and state returns — designed for first-time tax filers or simple tax returns
- Deluxe: $34.99 federal, $36.99 for each state return — designed for homeowners with deductions
- Premium: $54.99 federal, $36.99 for each state — designed for investors or small business owners
Downloadable Software Versions
- Basic: $19.95, $39.95 state; $19.95 state for additional state e-file
- Deluxe and State: $34.95; includes one state, plus $19.95 for additional state e-file
- Premium: $64.95; one free state, $19.95 for additional state e-file
- Premium and Business: $79.95; one free state, $19.95 for additional state e-file
- Interest-free advance offered on refunds
- Help available
- Brick-and-mortar locations available
- Last version’s final error check not user-friendly, according to PC Magazine
- Might not support all forms and schedules
Keep Reading: H&R Block Tax Preparation Mobile App Review
TaxAct is one of the best online tax software options available — and it’s the cheapest of the bunch. TaxAct features a simple, three-level price structure. The company guarantees a price lock, which means that whenever you file your return, you’ll pay the price stated when you prepared it. TaxAct also guarantees the accuracy of your return, which helps make it one of the best free tax software options available.
TaxAct is a good option if you have a relatively simple tax return and don’t require a lot of assistance during its preparation. For support, the company offers online answers and help by email, but no live chat.
TaxAct software is extremely affordable. Pricing starts at $0, and premium versions start at $30.
- Free: Free federal and state returns and e-filing — designed for simple returns using 1040EZ and 1040A
- Plus: $15, plus $25 per state return – designed for those with mortgages, investments, charitable donations and more
- Premium: $30, plus $25 per state return — designed for freelancers, contractors and those who are self-employed
- Free: Five free federal returns; state return is $25
- Plus: $40; includes one state return; e-file additional
- Premium: $55; includes one state return; e-file additional
- Lowest price
- Extremely affordable for self-employed, freelancers and contractors
- Guaranteed price
- No live help — answers online and via email only
- Last tax year’s mobile version not great, according to PC Magazine
TaxSlayer is another affordable but basic tax preparation software program. A feature that makes TaxSlayer one of the best online tax preparation options is that you can prepare your taxes either from a laptop or a mobile device. You can choose to pay no upfront fees and instead have the program deduct the cost of the program and filing from your tax refund. Like the big-name tax software, TaxSlayer offers guarantees for accuracy and maximum refund.
With TaxSlayer’s Premium option, you’ll also have the option to email a tax professional, who will email an answer within a day. The Premium edition offers audit advice as well — not a feature you hope to use, but might be happy to have, if the situation arises.
Check out the pricing on this affordable option for filing your taxes. You’ll pay $0 for the most basic version; the premium version starts at $34.99 for federal taxes only.
- Basic: Free, plus $19.99 for state return — designed for filers using Form 1040EZ
- Classic: $12.99, plus $19.99 for state return — includes all major forms and schedules; can import last year’s taxes
- Premium: $34.99, plus $19.99 for state return — includes all the features of the Classic edition, plus additional customer assistance
- Supports all forms and schedules, according to PC Magazine
- Cost of software can be deducted from refund
- User interface is lacking, according to PC Magazine
- Inadequate search tools in last season’s version, according to PC Magazine
- No live chat — email help only
Don’t Miss: Best Tax Preparation Mobile Apps
Jackson Hewitt Review
Jackson Hewitt, like H&R Block, offers many brick-and-mortar locations — 6,300 to be exact, including branches in 3,000 Walmarts. Jackson Hewitt also offers online tax-preparation software, including a free federal version. Unlike some of the less-expensive products, Jackson Hewitt offers unlimited help via live chat to help you get through your return.
The company offers an accuracy guarantee, backed by the promise that if its calculations are wrong it will pay your IRS penalties and interest. If you’re due a return, Jackson Hewitt offers an interest-free advance of up to $1,300. Finally, it offers a money-back, maximum refund guarantee or it will give you back your fee.
Jackson Hewitt Pricing
The paid versions might not be the cheapest choices, but they come with a lot of extras. Basic state returns start at $29.99 and premium software for state returns is $39.95.
- Free: Free, plus $29.99 for state return — designed for simple returns
- Basic: $39.95, plus $39.95 for state return — for recent graduates and newly married filers
- Deluxe: $54.95, plus $39.95 for state returns — best for families, homeowners and investors
- Premium: $74.95, plus $39.95 for state returns — designed for self-employed individuals and filers with complex tax returns
- Unlimited, live chat help available
- Many price levels
- Highest interest-free advance against refund available
- Navigational glitches in last season’s version, according to PC Magazine
- Bumps you into higher price tier services without warning, according to PC Magazine
Credit Karma Review
Credit Karma, a free credit platform, now offers free tax return software. No income limit, no expiration date, no upsells and no hidden fees apply to Credit Karma’s tax software. The software started rolling out in January to those who sign up for it. In order to use the free tax software, you’ll need to be signed up for the Credit Karma service, which offers free credit scores, credit card recommendations and insights.
Credit Karma Pricing
Because Credit Karma’s offering is so new, its tax return program is best for filers with simple returns. According to the company, what makes their product stand out is that the entire process is truly free.
- Free: For 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040 filers
- No upsells
- Customer support team
- Some filings not supported: Multiple state filings, part-year state filing, foreign earned income, married filing separately returns in common law states and state filing without a federal filing
- Must sign up for Credit Karma
Decide If Online Filing Works for You
Whether you file a personal tax return or own a small business, there’s probably tax software that will enable you to file taxes online this tax season. However, even the best tax service programs won’t do all the work for you — so if you’re not confident in your ability to navigate tax software, don’t hesitate to call a professional.
Ruth Sarreal contributed to the reporting for this article.