We tested these tax prep software during 2020, for the 2019 tax year.
If there's one thing Americans love to gripe about, it's filing their taxes. Come springtime, it can feel like a hassle to go through your earnings and make sure you gave enough to Uncle Sam during the previous year. After testing four popular tax software programs, we recommend Intuit TurboTax(available at Intuit for $59.99) as our best overall choice for your 2019 taxes.
Tax-preparation software should make it easy to find every tax break, calculate your refund or tax due, and navigate tax law changes. And as more people take on side hustles—57 million Americans do some sort of freelance work, according to a 2019 survey from Upwork and Freelancers Union—you may have to calculate self-employment taxes, too.
All of the major do-it-yourself tax-preparation products can guide you through the filing process for every tax situation and provide general tax advice. But it's the user experience and extra features that can make one product stand out above the rest.
Intuit TurboTax’s plain, easy-to-understand language guides you every step of the way. For those who qualify to use its free version or want plenty of filing options, we think H&R Block. Users can file online, via mobile app, and in person. If you don’t need as much guidance and want to save money, TaxAct and TaxSlayer are solid budget picks.
As the tax-filing deadline draws near—July 15 for most people—taxes can loom larger and larger in your life. These online tax software systems can help make a daunting task doable.
Here are the best online tax-prep software for federal returns we tested, ranked in order.
This review is an evaluation of the consumer experience using various tax prep software services. We’re here to share what we learned, but this is in no way a substitute for financial advice. Please consult a financial professional if you have questions about how to file your taxes.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
There's a reason people return to TurboTax year after year: It excels for its design and carefully guided questions and explanations. The downside? Tier for tier, TurboTax is the most expensive option.
TurboTax’s interface offers excellent guidance throughout the process and support options for when you get stuck. After moving you through a Q&A-style interview, TurboTax roots through every deduction and credit and shows you the most common forms relevant to your situation. It also gives you an opportunity to see if the more uncommon situations might apply to you. Behind the scenes, the software crunches the numbers and fills in your answers on the correct government forms and schedules.
When you have a question, you can refer to the Help Center articles that pop up on the sidebar, or upgrade to a paid version to talk with tax specialists. For an additional fee, you can access TurboTax Live, in which an enrolled agent or CPA reviews your taxes and looks for missed tax breaks.
TurboTax is best for anyone who needs extra-clear tax guidance, but it’s also the best option for people with a complicated tax situation. That could mean a lot of things. If you’re a landlord with rental income and expenses to track, you have a lot of investments to report or you’re a freelancer with side income, then you’ll have a lot of extra tax forms to fill out and tax rules to follow.
We ran one of our fictional tax filers—more on this below—Steve and Jane Go-Getter's taxes through the Self-Employed version, since Jane has freelance writing business. TurboTax flagged several common deductions that Jane could potentially claim and noted where she may have entered an error. It also informed Steve that his employer withheld too much Social Security tax. Timothy Taxes used the Free version, while Noah Numbers used the Deluxe package.
You'll have to do the math to see if you'll save money by upgrading. For instance, Noah had to upgrade to the Deluxe version ($60) to claim the student loan interest deduction. But claiming it got him an extra $240 back in his refund.
When you're getting ready to file taxes, you're probably thinking about cost first. But it also pays to consider how the tax software will guide you through the process, answer your questions and look for tax breaks tailored to you. If you choose a product that's inexpensive but not too helpful, you could spend hours deciphering IRS lingo and backtracking through forms to make sure they’re completed properly. The confusion and stress could even produce errors that cost you money.
Once you select the tax preparer, you should understand its different price tiers and what they cover. For example, people with a simple tax situation probably won’t need to upgrade to a paid version. Generally, a “simple” tax situation means you get wages from a W-2, have limited or no income from interest or dividends, and you plan to claim the standard deduction.
This year we tested four tax-filing programs: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer. The products were chosen for testing based on their percentage of market share and/or visibility with the public. Each product received scores based on three areas of quality:
Personal adaptability: How well did the software respond to the information from each of the personas, and how confident does it make the user feel that the numbers are going in the right places?
Product experience: How easy is the software to use entering and/or uploading information?
Customer support: How easy is it to find customer support, and how good is the support the user receives?
Our Fictional Tax Filers
Noah Numbers is a recent college graduate who's filing as single. He works at an accounting firm earning $50,000 per year and is repaying $30,000 worth of student loan debt. Noah has health insurance and a retirement account.
Steve and Jane Go-Getter are a young married couple with one child, Piper, who was born in 2018. They have a mortgage on their home in Massachusetts. Steve earns about $81,000 per year at an office job, while Jane earned $70,000 this year as a freelance writer. Steve and Jane both have health insurance and retirement accounts.
Timothy Taxpayer is a single retired man who's enrolled in Medicare and receives IRA distributions and Social Security income. He's paid off his mortgage and has no dependents.
Other Tax Software We Tested
H&R Block Deluxe Tax Software
DIY taxes are easier than ever, thanks to online software, but even the most confident tax-filers need help every now and then. That's where H&R Block shines: We like that you can file your taxes online (by yourself or with a pro), via mobile app, with downloaded software, or in person at more than 11,000 locations.
H&R Block’s free version is better than most. Like the others on this list, it handles Form 1040 along with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child tax credits. But you can also claim the student loan interest deduction and file schedules 1, 2 and 3, which means more taxpayers are covered under the free version.
Although attractive and easy to use, the interface isn’t quite as intuitive as TurboTax’s. For instance, H&R Block assumed Timothy Taxes had a W-2 (even after using “retired” as his job title), and we had to work a few screens to get back on track with retirement income.
But it still asks clear questions, offers helpful explanations along the way, looks for common tax breaks, and includes a help center for when you get stuck. You can upgrade to a paid version for tax advice via phone call or live chat. For an additional cost, H&R Block offers Online Assist, in which a tax professional reviews your return and checks for any missed tax breaks. Timothy Taxes used the free version, as did Noah Numbers (saving him money over TurboTax). The Go-Getter family used the Self-Employed package.
H&R Block is best for people who might want to file at a local office or qualify to use the free version. (If you have a more complicated tax situation, then TurboTax might lead you through the process better.)
TaxAct’s software is a solid balance between low prices and decent features. TurboTax and H&R Block are still easier to use, but if you’re looking to save money, TaxAct is a competent alternative.
TaxAct functions much like the others on this list: You can import last year’s returns (including ones from TurboTax and H&R Block) along with certain forms. Tax specialist phone support is included in all paid packages, but you can also pay extra for Tax Expert Help Service, in which you schedule an appointment with a tax expert.
Aside from offering an efficient tax-prep product at lower prices, TaxAct also has an accuracy guarantee worth $100,000. If the TaxAct software makes an error on your return that results in a higher tax liability or lower refund, it will reimburse you for any resulting penalties and interest up to a maximum of $100,000. That’s the highest stated guarantee we found of the filing programs on this list.
If you’re looking to save money, you have high income and you’re worried about errors, the low price points and high-dollar guarantee could be reason enough to choose this software.
Noah Numbers had to use the Deluxe+ version to claim the student loan interest deduction, while Timothy Taxes used the Free package and the Go-Getters used the Self-Employed package. The interface was easy to navigate, although a few prompts were frustrating. For instance, when TaxAct told Jane Go-Getter to return to a specific place in her tax return to fix an error, it didn’t provide a link to that specific place.
You’ll be asked whether you want to enter the information on the form yourself or receive guidance. We used the guidance option, but poked around the file version, too. Some tax filers are probably very comfortable using the forms. But if you’ve only ever used online software to file taxes, then seeing the forms can feel overwhelming. Having the option is a nice touch.
TaxAct also seemed to know when to provide information at the relevant moment. For example, TaxAct set Timothy Taxes’ filing status to single but asked if he wanted to check out "qualifying widower." Then TaxAct clearly explained why Timothy couldn't qualify as a widower (he doesn't have a dependent). It also included a “pro tip” about claiming parents as dependents.
TaxSlayer supports all major IRS forms and schedules at affordable prices, but its flaws are made clear when using the software alongside others. The free version comes with more limitations than the others on this list, its interface lacks polish and the live-chat feature is subpar.
Among competitors on this list, TaxSlayer offers the lowest prices. Its Free version handles simple tax situations along with the student loan interest deduction, though you’ll need to meet certain income and filing qualifications. The Classic version ($17) handles anything more complicated: all deductions, credits, schedules and forms. Although the Free and Classic packages include free tech support, you’ll have to upgrade to Premium to get tax advice.
The Premium version comes with a support feature called Ask a Tax Professional, in which you can submit questions through your TaxSlayer account. A tax expert will follow up with an answer within one business day via phone or email. Self-Employed package users also get customized self-employment tax advice.
TaxSlayer is best for more confident tax filers who don’t mind minimal guidance—and those looking to save a few bucks.
The Go-Getters used the Self-Employment package, while Noah Numbers and Timothy Taxes used the Simply Free version. The software calculated the same tax refunds compared to the other preparers on this list, but it just wasn’t as easy to move around or get help. Some of the tax-topic explanations direct you to IRS pages, which defeats the purpose of tax-prep software. Other prompts don’t have explanations at all. While entering Jane Go-Getter’s information, we couldn’t resolve the issue using the live-chat function, which disconnected after 15 minutes. We ended up calling phone support and resolving the issue there.
If you have a complex tax situation along with a list of questions, then you might benefit from hiring a CPA or tax preparer. These professionals typically help if you:
Own a business, a rental property or a complicated investment portfolio.
Want help planning for your financial future, such as saving for retirement or paying for your kids' education.
Had a big life event this year, such as buying a home, having a child, getting married or divorced, or receiving an inheritance.
Tax preparers charge an average of $188 for federal and state returns without itemized deductions and $294 for customers who did itemize, according to the National Society of Accountants' 2018 survey. Taxpayers with business income paid an extra $187 on average to file Schedule C. But an accountant could be well worth the fee if they dig up extra tax breaks or help you make sense of a complicated tax situation.
Kim Porter is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published on websites such as U.S. News & World Report, Credit Karma, and LifeLock. Her expertise is in credit cards, credit, real estate, running, and travel, and she plans to run a half marathon on each of the seven continents.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.