There are many great tax preparation software options available, so we will help guide you.
When choosing a tax software, there are a few things to keep in mind: Personal use vs business use, gross income, planned deductions, itemization needs, investments, self-employed or other needs.
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About Tax Preparation Software
Taxes are confusing enough without the added stress of figuring out which tax software is the best tax software, so we did the research to help you choose the ideal option to file taxes online. We focused on well-known and widely used tax preparation software, and while their underlying math is the same — the tax code is the tax code — there is a crucial difference between paying for what you could use and paying for stuff you don’t need.
We also looked at several other providers but didn't include them here, because we felt they didn't provide a level of service and features worth your time and money when you file taxes online.
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Best for Simple Returns
H&R Block Free
What's a “simple” tax return? Here we define it as one that includes wages and income from a W-2 and limited income from interest or dividends (less than $1,500); claims the standard deduction; and could claim the earned income tax credit or child tax credits.
If that sounds like where you're at, you may not need a software package built for crazy-complicated tax situations. And when it comes to tax prep software that can do simple returns at a reasonable price without sacrificing user-friendliness, we think H&R Block Free stands out from the crowd.
Like the free tax software from most of its competitors, H&R Block’s free version lets you file the Form 1040 and take a few common tax breaks if you qualify for them.
But it also lets you file schedules 1, 2 and 3, which is a big bonus because many taxpayers need to file those forms. They allow you to report (but not calculate) things such as business income, alimony, deductible student loan interest, certain retirement contributions, the alternative minimum tax, the credit for dependent care expenses, the Lifetime Learning Credit and the Saver’s Credit.
To boot, H&R Block’s interface is good-looking, straightforward and easy to use, and it steps up to explain concepts as you go. You can skip around if you want, and a banner across the top keeps track of where you stand in the process.
Help is available within the preparation process — many terms during the interview process are hyperlinked with a “learn more” tag so you can get more information without having to wander around. The help menu updates according to where you are in the process.
And if you want to pay for it, H&R Block’s Online Assist gets you unlimited, on-demand chat, phone or screen-sharing sessions with a certified public accountant, enrolled agent or other tax expert at any point.
Best for Beginning to Itemize
H&R Block Deluxe
If your tax situation isn’t simple, but it’s not super complex either, choosing tax software can quickly turn stressful. Many people aren’t sure how much horsepower they need, they’re not impressed by features they may not use and they don’t want to overpay.
So when we evaluated each company's entry-level paid software package for itemizers and studied things such as ease of use, features, help and support options, price and other factors, H&R Block Deluxe was our choice for value, support and modern features.
If You Have a Complex Return…
If you have a lot of investments to track, are a landlord who gets income from rent or are a freelancer or self-employed, you’ve probably got a lot of extra tax forms to fill out and a lot of extra tax rules to follow. For those situations, TurboTax has two good solutions: TurboTax Premier and TurboTax Self-Employed.
TurboTax Premier helps you calculate investment and rental income because it supports schedules D, E and K-1. TurboTax Self-Employed gets you everything in the Premier version plus support for the home office deduction, extra deduction help and special features for freelancers, independent contractors and side-hustlers. It also comes with a one-year subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed and boasts a neat expense-tracking feature through QuickBooks, including the ability to store photos of your receipts and track mileage from your phone.
More tips for choosing how to file taxes online
1. SEE IF YOU CAN USE A SOFTWARE PROVIDER’S FREE VERSION
- Virtually all large tax software providers offer free versions of their software if you want to file taxes online, but they’re usually only for people with really simple tax returns.
- Note that state returns sometimes aren't free (especially as the filing deadline nears).
2. SEE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR FREE FILING THROUGH THE IRS
- IRS’ Free File program could get you name-brand software from among 10 tax-prep companies if your adjusted gross income was below $69,000 in 2019.
- If your income exceeds that threshold, you can get access only to fillable electronic versions of the IRS forms and not much guidance.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON AUDIT PROTECTION
Audits are unlikely, but if you think you’re at risk of an audit and want to purchase protection, you should understand what your software provides when you file taxes online.
In general, there are two levels of service:
- Guidance (which basically means helping you understand what’s happening).
- Representation (which means a skilled human will speak with the IRS on your behalf).
Most providers offer free guidance, but you’ll likely have to pay for representation.
(sources: Investopedia, NerdWallet)