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April 18 — tax day — is a day you won’t want to forget in 2022 (or April 19 if you happen to live in Massachusetts or Maine). And while it’s a chore most of us dread, for better or worse, your taxes will be due before you know it. To make your life less chaotic, you might consider using an online tax program, which can take all your income and expense numbers, calculate your total tax and even electronically file your return for you.
But with many online tax programs available, which one should you use? To help you out, two years ago we tested the top four programs by completing the entire process of entering our tax information, then compared the results to that of a tax professional to see if the programs could get you the same (or better) results. This year again, we revisited those same programs and explored their new features to see if our verdict remains the same.
Throughout the entire process, TurboTax is the easiest to use, helping you figure out which forms you need in a customer-friendly way and offering live customer support whenever you need it (although it might cost you).
Although all four tax preparation programs offer free versions, H&R Block gives you access to the most forms without a charge.
Regardless of the complexity of your taxes, TaxSlayer offers the lowest prices across the board. TaxSlayer costs no more than $48 for your Federal return, even for the most complex tax situation.
When it comes to a guarantee, TaxAct blows all the other programs out of the water. While all four programs are marketed as 100% accurate, TaxAct goes further by offering up to $100,000 in reimbursement if their software fails to provide accurate results.
Each program offers four different filing options based on the complexity of your taxes. And although they cover many of the same forms and deductions, there are some differences, and quite a spread when it comes to price.
This chart lists out those options along with their respective prices at the “do it yourself” level. Some of the programs are also available to purchase via Amazon or your local office supply store at a cheaper price, though you’ll only be able to “try before you buy” at each tax program’s website.
The basics of these programs don’t change much from year to year, so if you have a very straightforward tax situation — a W-2 from a job and perhaps some interest or dividend income — all of these programs offer a free option that will likely work for you (although TaxAct no longer offers a free option for filing a state return).
Not many forms are included at the most basic level, though H&R Block provides the most forms under this no-cost filing option. On the flip side, H&R Block will also work hardest at trying to sell extra options to you throughout the process, so “free” might not end up being truly free if you decide to take them up on one or more of their pitches.
If you have relatively simple taxes but still more than what’s allowed in the free versions, all of the basic-level paid options will work just fine, so cost might be your biggest factor when selecting one of the four. Since professional accountant support typically isn’t needed when it comes to a simple tax situation, TaxSlayer should be your go-to for its low-cost option.
However, if you have more complex taxes — which could include running a small business, having numerous deductions or owning lots of real estate — you’ll want to put cost aside and use TurboTax. TurboTax is hands down the most customer-friendly option with an easy-to-use platform.
But you may find you’ll need to pay some of TurboTax’s add-on fees to ensure the most accurate results, meaning you might be better off just handing over your tax documents to an accountant to save the headache. Taxes are complicated, and making sure you get everything accurate while maximizing your deductions is just that: complicated.
Best tax software overall: TurboTax ($49.90 for Deluxe + State version; amazon.com)
From the moment you arrive at the TurboTax website, the company holds your hand to help you figure out the right software version to use for your specific taxes. The site asks a number of questions about common financial items — such as whether or not you have a job, pay rent, pay student loans, sold stock, have children and more — which will then automatically populate into the TurboTax version you need to get started.
Out of all four tax programs, entering my W-2 information was by far the easiest with TurboTax. With some of the other programs, I had to manually enter each line item from my W-2 form, but not with TurboTax. By just entering my employer ID and the dollar amount from box 1, the program was able to automatically import my entire W-2 and populate all the required boxes. If TurboTax doesn’t recognize your employer’s EIN, you can also take a photo of your W-2 form using the TurboTax mobile app.
I was also able to import some of my 1099-INT and 1099-DIV forms by logging into my respective financial institution websites right from the TurboTax site. This made the process seamless and ensured all information was entered correctly.
My personal taxes are on the complicated side, and TurboxTax’s search feature was a huge help. Since not every form was presented to me throughout the process, I had to do some digging to find some of the more uncommon ones. But TurboTax has a great search feature, which allows you to enter the form name and you’ll immediately be taken to that form. This was definitely unique to TurboTax, and made entering all my forms much easier.
Unfortunately though, TurboTax no longer offers the same complimentary live tax advice options it used to have with its three paid versions. Instead, there’s a paid upgrade option — called TurboTax Live — which costs an extra $79 to $199 depending on the complexity of your taxes. This service offers to have a tax expert review your return line-by-line, and to speak to them throughout the year with questions.
While most of these software programs offer some level of guidance, in my experience TurboTax provided excellent help — despite now having to pay for it. I did my TurboTax work late at night, and I wanted to test their TurboTax Live feature. With just a 5-minute wait, I was able to speak to an attorney with eight years of experience. I was also able to share my screen with their representative, who guided me to the correct form by highlighting the steps on my screen.
TurboTax Live is available during most waking hours in the US — 8 a.m to 10 p.m. Mountain time, 7 days a week. But truthfully, we found TurboTax’s online resources were more than adequate to answer any questions we had, making the Live support not a necessity unless you also want the CPA review at the end.
In addition to the paid TurboTax Live service, if you get fed up with doing your own taxes at any point during the process, you can offload the whole thing to a tax expert who will finish it for you — called TurboTax Live Full Service. The cost of this service is quite expensive at $199 to $389, depending on which version your taxes require. At that cost, you might want to compare pricing to a local tax expert to see which one offers the best price.
However, if you have a very basic return that only requires TurboTax’s free version (basically if you only need to file Form 1040), and you’re able to get your taxes done in the next month and file by March 31, right now TurboTax will have a CPA review your return at no cost. In fact, you can even use the TurboTax Live Full Service feature for free if using the “basic” version — as long as you file by March 31. That means if you can get ahead of the game, this is a great opportunity to have someone else truly do your taxes for you at no cost.
Despite TurboTax being the most expensive product across the board, the three paid levels are currently discounted by $20 to $30 through February 28 if you purchase directly with TurboTax through the links in this story. (These discounts are as of this writing and can change at any time.)
Best free tax software: H&R Block ($28.44 for Deluxe + State version; amazon.com)
Even if your taxes are a step up from simple, you still might be able to file through H&R Block’s free filing option, since it includes Schedules 1, 2 and 3, which are some of the more common forms required by many taxpayers. This allows you to cover child and dependent care expenses, student loan interest deductions, tuition and fee statements and unemployment income. With many of other tax programs, you may have to pay for the mid-tier service in order to access these options.
However, while many people should be able to use the free option, H&R Block does regularly try to upsell you. Compared to the other programs, it has significantly more pop-ups offering the chance to buy partner apps or additional tax services. You can ignore them, but they do become a bit annoying.
A few years ago, we felt that one of the downsides to H&R Block’s software was that the interface wasn’t very user-friendly. Fortunately, as of last year, the program has a new look and feel, which greatly improves the experience. For instance, I found it much easier this year to use the search function to find forms I had trouble finding in the past.
If filling your taxes on your own proves to be more complex than you thought, H&R Block offers two options to help ease the process. The first is unlimited live expert help, including the ability to share your screen and communicate via on-demand chat or video support. This add-on service normally costs $69.99, but it’s currently discounted to $39.99 as of this writing.
When we tested this feature out, we found it useful, but the wait time was significantly longer than some of the other products. On a Thursday morning in the middle of February — well before most people start thinking about taxes — I waited exactly 24 minutes before an expert was available to help me. To have to wait this long every single time a question pops up would be extremely frustrating for most.
And if you truly want to have someone else do your taxes for you, you can file with an H&R Block tax professional, similar to filing with your own accountant. The cost of this service starts at $80, but we found that H&R Block doesn’t give you the full price before you actually meet with a tax professional. We were told that the more complex your taxes are, the higher the fee will be.
If you decide to use one of the paid H&R Block editions, you can currently get $20 to $25 off the regular price when you purchase directly with H&R Block through the links in this story. (This discount is as of this writing and can change at any time.)
Cheapest tax software: TaxSlayer ($17.95 for Classic version, plus $36.95 per state)
With some programs charging as much as $90 to file a complicated Federal return, TaxSlayer has the lowest prices when it comes to more complex tax situations across all four programs. And while one might assume that a lower cost equals lower results, that turns out not to be the case.
I found it quite easy to navigate the TaxSlayer website, and entering some forms was even easier than other sites. For example, with TurboTax, figuring out where to enter my Schedule K-1 information wasn’t as simple as it should have been. But with TaxSlayer, it was an upfront option where I didn’t have to go searching for it.
Even with its no-cost option, TaxSlayer offers free phone and email support, although you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium version to speak to an actual tax professional or even use their technical support chat feature. But the cost of the Premium edition is just $38, while the same level of support with the same filing needs will cost more than double with H&R Block.
While we had a hard time using the chat feature last year, this year we had a lot of success. We only had to wait two minutes to speak to a representative and she was able to accurately answer our question in no time. (This was at the exact same time that we utilized H&R’s support feature and had to wait 24 minutes.) If you’re looking for a tax provider to answer your questions quickly — and at a lower price — then TaxSlayer will do just that.
Best tax software guarantee: TaxAct ($24.95 for Deluxe version plus $44.95 per state)
It’s important to keep in mind that TaxAct’s $100,000 Accuracy Guarantee covers any error made by the program itself, not errors that you might make entering the data. According to the TaxAct site (the bolding is ours), “if an error in our software results in you ultimately receiving a smaller refund or larger tax liability than you receive using the same data with another tax preparation product, we will pay you the difference in the refund or liability (up to $100,000) and refund the applicable software fees you paid us.”
But aside from having the absolute best accuracy guarantee, TaxAct is fairly simple to use, its pricing is in the middle of the road across the four programs, and it offers the option to file your taxes jointly with an expert.
However, one negative change to TaxAct in 2022 is that filing your state return with the basic version is quite expensive. In 2020, filing your state return was free, while in 2021 it went up to a nominal $4.95. Now, in 2022, the basic version will cost you $39.95 per state. All three of the other software packages we reviewed come with one free state tax return even with the basic version of each program — which could persuade you to use another option if all you need are the basics.
But one real benefit of TaxAct is their Xpert Assist service. It’s an included feature in all plans and it allows you to speak to a tax professional over the phone 7 days a week through April 18. With that being said, when using the feature, our estimated wait time was 77 minutes for the representative to call us back. But, if you can ask all of your questions in one call, speaking live with a professional can be well worth it.
And new this year is TaxAct’s Xpert Full Service. This allows you to fully hand your taxes over to an expert. There are a few different service levels, but after filling out the basic questions about your situation, TaxAct will give you a price, so there’s no surprises down the road. We played with many options — from basic to more complex situations — and found the pricing to be relatively favorable.
TaxAct is also known to offer discounts leading up to tax day. While there aren’t any discounts currently available as of this writing, last year we saw as much as $15 to $30 off the various paid versions of the program, depending on your filing needs.
How we tested
In our original tests, we went through each of the four programs and completed a real-life tax return with a fairly high level of complexity, attempting to enter every piece of data and use all the features available. We then compared the resulting return from each program to the return prepared by a professional CPA using the same information to see if the amount owed on the federal and state levels matched.
This year, we went back through all four programs and rechecked the features we had originally tested, and also tested any new features, along with confirming each software’s current pricing.
The main criteria we evaluated included:
- Accuracy: To ensure accurate results, we matched the end result to a professionally prepared filing. We also compared the results between the four programs.
- Ease of use: We looked at many different aspects of each company’s site when determining how easy the software was to use. This included how long it took to get started and sign up for the program, navigating through the software, determining whether the process was straightforward or confusing, and the time spent to complete the filing.
- Cost: We compared all costs for all types of filing needs. We also took notice as to whether or not we were being upsold extra options throughout the process.
- Guarantees: We looked at the guarantees each program offered to ensure that they stood behind their results.
Using the test criteria described above, we assessed each tax software program on accuracy, ease of use, cost and in terms of its guaranteed accuracy.
Should you use tax software?
While there are some interesting new features in this year’s crop of programs, there weren’t any breakthroughs that led us to change our overall impressions from last year’s tests. And after testing each of these programs, I’ve realized that doing my complex taxes myself isn’t for me and I still prefer a professional. But for simpler returns, using a tax program is definitely a cost-effective option.
Fortunately, if you start your tax return directly at any of the four tax program websites, you don’t have to pay upfront — you only pay at the end of the process when you file. So, if you end up going through your taxes and realize that doing it yourself is not for you, there’s no money lost. Or if you start with one tax program and aren’t happy with the way it’s going, you can always try another one to see if it works better for your particular tax scenario.