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Here's the Best Software for Doing Your Taxes

TurboTax is your best bet for a tax prep app, but it's not your only option.
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do your own taxes

Tax software turns convoluted IRS forms into a straightforward questionnaire, doing all the math and filling in all the boxes for you. While the process isn't quite as easy as handing a box of receipts to your CPA, a good tax app breaks down complicated concepts into plain English.

But which tax software is right for you? Read on for a rundown of program costs, the benefits of online versus downloaded versions, and our picks for this year's best tax software.

What Does Tax Software Cost?

Filing your 2017 taxes can cost as little as $0. If you have a simple return and don't need to itemize deductions or report self-employment, rental, or investment income, then congratulations! You can probably use the free version of almost any tax app to file both your federal and state taxes.

However, if your tax situation is more complicated — or you want to itemize your deductions to maximize your refund — expect to spend anywhere from $15 to $180. The more you spend, the more tax forms you'll have access to; most tax apps have at least a half dozen versions with varying features and prices.

If you have a simple return and don't need to itemize deductions or report extra income, then you can probably use the free version of a tax app.

Many applications also offer extra services for a fee. The most common add-on is state returns, which typically cost an extra $40. Unlike most of the competition, H&R Block skips this cost if you buy the Deluxe download version (or any tier above it), but instead it tacks on another hidden fee: $20 to e-file your state return. In short, watch out for extra costs, because they can add up.

Beyond state returns, you may find a couple extra features worth paying for. Additional support or return checking can be a good choice, especially if you're worried about getting your taxes right. Even though these apps guarantee accuracy — at least based on the information you've provided — there's reassurance in having a professional on hand to help out.

The priciest version of TurboTax ($180) offers on-demand support from a CPA, so you can ask questions or get advice whenever you need to. You also get a professional review of your return when it's finished. H&R Block also offers a professional review for an extra $50 to $90, depending on the complexity of your return.

SEE ALSO: All the FREE Ways to File Your Taxes Online

You may also be interested in audit assistance features. All of the software on our list will offer basic help if you get audited, which typically means answering your questions and helping you prepare for the audit. H&R Block particularly shines here, because you can go into an office to get free audit help.

If you need audit representation, however, it'll cost you. The amount will vary depending on your tax situation with H&R Block. TurboTax pushes this feature as an upsell with TurboTax Max, which costs $45 and must be purchased in advance. Still, if you're particularly worried about an audit, it may be worth using TurboTax or H&R Block for the peace of mind.

Finally, it's worth noting that most tax software increases in price the closer you get to filing day.

Online vs. Downloaded Tax Software

Most companies give you the option of doing your taxes with using an online application or by downloading software. Though both of these options offer similar features, online versions require an internet connection and store your data on the cloud. Downloaded applications can be worked on offline with data stored on your local computer. Some other things to consider:

  • Doing your taxes online means information is automatically saved and backed up.

  • Doing your taxes offline gives you full control over where your files are kept... but if you don't back them up yourself, you could lose them in a computer crash.

  • Doing your taxes online lets you work on them anywhere you have an internet connection. You probably don't want to use a public computer or unsecured WiFi connection to do your taxes, though.

  • Doing your taxes online means you can pay when you're finished, while downloaded software requires you to pay upfront.

In the end, it's up to you which kind of software you'd rather use. However, be aware that a company's online and download versions may not precisely match one another. For example, except for the More Zero edition, none of H&R Block's online apps include state filing — you'll need to pay an extra $37. Meanwhile, all but the most basic H&R Block download versions includes it at no extra charge. Be careful to check prices and features before you pick a version.


do your own taxes

The Best Tax Software in 2018

Best Overall Tax Prep App: TurboTax

Though TurboTax works essentially the same as other tax apps, we think it does this job better than the rest. Its guidance is conversational and friendly, so you hardly feel like you're doing the often-frustrating chore of tax filing. TurboTax will even fill in all of your W-2 information with a simple snapshot of the form.

Though TurboTax works essentially the same as other tax apps, we think it does this job better than the rest.

The software also offers lots of help options, including live chat and phone support. Plus, it has the novel feature of sharing your screen with a professional, so they can see exactly what you're doing and help you get it right. The most expensive version of the app (the $180 TurboTax Live) even lets you talk to a CPA or EA, helping you get as much support as you need. It also offers audit support and, for an upcharge, provides audit representation.

The downside to TurboTax is that it's the most expensive app. And a complicated selection of options — and fees — may increase your price even more.

If you're self-employed or running a small business, the online self-employed version is a good value, even though it's a pricey $120. This version includes a year's subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed for easy year-round bookkeeping (and easier 2018 tax filings), which would otherwise cost $120.

Here's the breakdown of TurboTax versions:

As you can see from the prices, you should pay close attention to get a deal on the tax app that best suits your needs.

Best Tax App for In-Person Support: H&R Block

H&R Block's interface and guidance is very good, if not quite as good as TurboTax. It still makes entering your information simple, and like TurboTax it will enter all of your W-2 information if you snap a photo of your return.

The biggest advantage to H&R Block is that you can get in-person support at your nearest H&R Block location, which can be great for anyone who wants to sit down and talk to someone rather than chatting online or by phone. (Some in-person services may cost extra, though.)

SEE ALSO: The Top 5 Places to Check Your Credit for FREE

H&R Block's online free edition also offers more options than the competition, letting you itemize your deductions without spending a dime. There's a limit to what it'll handle, but it offers more options than other freebies on the market.

Still, H&R Block has its own complicated set of product choices, which range from $0 to $90, plus any extras you might need. Here are your options:

For less than what you'll pay for TurboTax, you'll get software that's nearly as good — with in-person support, if that's what you prefer.

Best Tax App for Your Budget: TaxAct

TaxAct is a simple application that offers less guidance than the other apps, so it's better suited to filers with a bit of experience. The support options are good, but not as robust as what TurboTax and H&R Block offer. In addition to a thorough selection of help options, there's live support by phone or chat for paid users — a solid feature for a low-cost app.

TaxAct is a simple application that offers less guidance than the other apps, so it's better suited to filers with a bit of experience.

In the end, TaxAct has all the basic features you need for a very reasonable price. It runs from $0 for the simplest tax situations to $97 for self-employed filers. And the prices you see are the prices you'll pay, no matter when you file.

Here are the TaxAct options:

Again, you'll want to pay attention to the prices and features of the online versions and download versions to make sure you get the features you need without overpaying.

Readers, what tax software do you prefer to use and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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5 comments
BrokerDon
You're WAY off on what the lowest price source is for TurboTax software !!!

https://www.TaxReps.info/TAX_SOFTWARE

You also omitted TurboTax Business which is for LLCs, partnerships, and corporations. TaxReps sells TurboTax Business 2017 (Fed + Efile) PC Download for only $58.95 ($149.99 from Intuit). Note for TurboTax Business you still have to order a $49.99 STATE tax software add-on for EACH entity type. We have to order $49.99 x 3 this year since we used TurboTax Business to file 2 partnership, 2 LLC and one corporate tax return.
nematoda
@joe512. It's simply not the case that "there is bound to be something somewhere that gets counted as an 'upsale.'" I've never paid anything beyond the original cost of the program, and I've been using tax prep software for more than a decade.
nematoda
@teddy23. On the other hand, if you don't have any esoteric deductions, spending $300 or more for an accountant may not save you any money. One year, when my Taxcut program showed I owed a lot of money, I decided to go to a professional accountant. The accountant couldn't do anything: my taxes were exactly the same. So I simply ended up spending more money than was necessary.

Every situation is different. In some cases, an accountant will save you lots of money, in other cases not. For many if not most people with basic deductions, the tax software will do as good a job as an accountant.
teddy23
To get the most back in taxes go to an accountant!!! Don't go to the national chain tax preparation places like Liberty, Jackson Hewitt, or H&R Block. The chances you get someone with accounting experience is slim. Most take a class on how to use there software and if a question arises they need to call someone. Every year I do my taxes on Taxact and give phony personal information just to see about how much I'll be getting back. Then I go to an accountant that I have been going to for 8 years now. I get an average about $1,200 more then what I get filing my own taxes. This year my accountant charged 300.00 and he did my children taxes for free. If I would have done my taxes with Taxact I would have gotten back around 6,000 but with my accountant I got back this year slightly over 7,300. Going to an accountant you build a relationship. Since I have been going to him I have called him up a few times during the years and asked questions and have gotten free advice and answers.
joe1512
These all suck. No matter how simple you think your return is, there is bound to be something somewhere that gets counted as an "upsale" option...usually after you have spend a hour working on it. Usually something awesome like "do you have a job? If so, please upgrade to the Employed Edition of the software.."

They are counting on the fact that you will go ahead and pay up for the "premium features" due to sunk cost fallacy.