While all tax preparation programs can lead to having a return to e-file or mail in this tax season, the user experience, cost and support can widely vary among options. For example, I've found that less expensive options tend to require more tax knowledge and data entry and offer less support, while high-end tax preparation programs offer the most flexibility to receive guidance during the process or even have a professional take over the work. So, it's crucial to choose the right one that fits your needs and budget. Take a look at my experiences with three of the best tax software options I've used.
TaxAct - Best for Frugal Filers
While it's not as well known as competitors like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct has handled around 60 million tax returns over the last two decades. As I've researched tax software to use over the years, I often found myself returning to TaxAct due to the free and low-cost tax packages that appeal to frugal customers. You can find Free ($0, for basic filers), Deluxe ($24.95, for homeowners), Premier ($34.95, for investors) and Self-Employed ($64.95, for small businesses and freelancers) tiers with an extra state return fee. I've used all of these except for the Premier package from time to time.
When using TaxAct, I liked how the user experience stayed consistent each tax year, especially when it came to the tax interview process that allowed me to import the last year's data to save time. I also liked the Q&A feature at the beginning of the federal return since it helped shorten the interview process by allowing me to just select relevant types of income, deductions and credits from the start. Although I did have to manually enter a lot of information from tax forms like 1099s, the process was straightforward, and TaxAct ran final checks before I filed to inspect for potential errors.
I did find that TaxAct lacked some handy features like document uploads and offered limited support options with the standard plans, but this didn't affect filing my taxes at all. For those who prefer more support, TaxAct now features a paid add-on called Xpert Help for access to an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant or other tax professional throughout the whole process, and audit support is available for an additional fee for even more assurance.
Overall, I'd recommend TaxAct if you'd like to save money and don't mind doing some extra work completing your return.
TurboTax - Best for Ease of Use
Developed by the company Intuit that is responsible for the major accounting software Quickbooks, TurboTax is one of the biggest names in tax preparation software and has gained a positive reputation due to its accuracy guarantee and the numerous support options available. I've only used the free version of the product that includes both federal and state returns. However, you'll also find Deluxe ($40, for most tax credit and deduction options), Premier ($70, for investors) and Self-Employed ($90, for freelancers and small businesses) packages with state returns for an extra fee.
What I loved most about TurboTax was the extremely user-friendly interface used for answering the tax interview questions on both the website and the mobile app. I found the questions were kept simple to avoid overwhelming you even if you were new to filing your taxes, and TurboTax showed refund update messages to keep me updated along the way. I could often import documents through services connected with TurboTax, and when I used the mobile app, I could simply take pictures of a W-2 form and have the data imported that way with less typing required.
Read More: How Does Having Multiple W-2s Affect Your Taxes?
I felt highly assured when I used TurboTax since I knew I was covered under the audit and maximum refund guarantees, and I also liked the option to receive an advance on my tax refund if I needed it. TurboTax offers phone and email support options along with premium options to have a live agent help you with your return or even do the whole return for you, but I didn't take advantage of any of these options.
Overall, I recommend TurboTax if you're willing to pay a premium price for a painless user experience and plenty of support options.
H&R Block - Best for Personalized Support
Having handled 800 million returns since its establishment, H&R Block stands out as a tax preparation provider with brick-and-mortar offices, so it offers a lot of familiarity to customers. I decided to try the Free Online tier of H&R Block's software for a family member since I found it covered more tax situations than competitors did for that tier. However, H&R Block also offers Deluxe ($29.99, for most deductions and credits), Premium ($49.99, for investors) and Self-Employed ($84.99, for freelancers and small businesses) options with an extra fee for state returns.
I found the ease of use with H&R Block was on par with TurboTax in that the tax return walkthrough offered excellent guidance, featured plenty of links for more explanations and made it easy to find sections for specific types of income, deductions and credits. This option also had very helpful import capabilities and could handle uploading last year's tax return from another provider as well as snapping a picture of a W-2 form to save a lot of time. I had switched between the mobile app and website during the tax return preparation process, and I had no problem with keeping my data synced along the way.
While I handled the tax return fine with just the included tools, H&R Block did offer several support options for an extra fee. For example, customers using paid versions of the software could talk to a tax expert on the phone or over an online chat, and there was a more expensive one-on-one tax filing option with a video chat and screen sharing. H&R Block offered an additional product to get someone to review the final return for accuracy for reassurance too.
Since you can get close to the in-person filing experience with this provider, I recommend H&R Block to those who prefer that sense of familiarity and support.
- TaxAct: File for Up to 50% Less Than Turbotax®
- TaxAct: TaxAct Xpert Help™
- Intuit TurboTax: Home
- Intuit TurboTax: Tax Experts. Your Way.
- H&R Block: File the Way You Want With H&R Block
- H&R Block: Our Company
- H&R Block: File Online. Free
- National Society of Accountants. "NSA Survey Reveals Fee and Expense Data For Tax Accounting Firms in 2016 and 2017 Projections." Accessed September 3, 2020.
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.