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Best Tax Software for Online Tax Services
November 7, 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
Each year, tax time comes, with its tight deadlines and a deluge of new rules. Changes like unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, new deductions, updated exemption rules, and stimulus payments can complicate your life needlessly. The best tax software uncomplicates it, thanks to easy-to-use interfaces and live help on demand.
Our top pick this year is Credit Karma Tax for its excellent user interface and 100% free federal and state tax return filing regardless of your financial situation. See details on this and our other selections below for the best expert support, in-person tax preparation services, as well as online and mail-in options.
How we chose the best tax software
A word of warning. If you use online tax software to file your return, you’re likely to run into a few pain points. While all the tax prep software options below compare well with each other, none of them has an overall 5-star score.
In an exhaustive search of online reviews and ratings, we found that every option below topped out at about 3.5 stars in aggregate from both users and professional reviewers. None scored measurably lower, and none scored higher. While these are the cream of the crop, you may still run into some slight headaches.
The software below will help if you’re determined to file your own taxes, but it may benefit you to look for a CPA or accountant to help if your finances got more complex lately due to the pandemic.
1. Credit Karma Tax - Best free tax software
Credit Karma offers 100% free tax filings online to all comers, regardless of your tax situation, for both federal and state taxes. This isn’t one of those, well sure it’s free if you don’t have self-employment income, rental income, or an alpaca at home offers, either.
This is a bonafide, “always-free to everyone no matter what” deal, which gives Credit Karma our gold star for the best tax software you’ll find anywhere, especially since their interface compares well with the competition. It’s even free to small business owners.
Free audit defense
Even more impressive, Credit Karma’s free tax software comes with automatic audit defense if an audit occurs, a refund guarantee, and an accurate calculation guarantee (up to $1,000).
This isn’t to say that there aren’t frustrations and dissatisfied customers leading to negative reviews of Credit Karma’s tax software. But the downsides are on par with the competition. If you have to deal with frustrations no matter where you go, “free” goes a long way toward salving them.
2. TurboTax - best tax pro support
TurboTax by Intuit is arguably the best tax software available today. It’s not 100% free like Credit Karma, but the platform’s biggest draw is its excellent live personal support from experienced tax professionals, including text-chat and phone help, and even live video chat for an added fee.
Another great perk of TurboTax is the incredibly robust and easy-to-use interface, which walks you through all the steps to complete your return. The complexity of the interface varies based on your answers to questions about deductions and credits, child tax credits, and other personal details, adding and filling out various income tax forms in the background as needed.
Most powerful audit defense
TurboTax provides a powerful audit defense feature – even with their free plans – including a dedicated specialist in case of an audit. Your specialist will interact with the IRS on your behalf, working to clear up misunderstandings and providing supporting materials and evidence to make your case.
The real power of TurboTax is that they’re careful when they hire their tax pros. Many are actual accountants who like the flexibility of logging long hours during tax time, then taking time off in other months. The rest are bookkeepers and other specialists, and all are highly trained in the platform and the current year’s tax code updates.
3. H&R Block
H&R Block offers the best professional tax software for those who prefer a mix of online and in-person capability. One of the coolest things about H&R Block is that you can mostly complete your return online, then head into any of their 11,000 locations around the country to finish up.
This hybrid model lets you fill in the easy blanks at home, then get sit-down attention from a tax professional to walk you through the rest. All in all, this is an excellent option with unlimited technical support, built-in calculators, and a mobile app and PC software download that provide maximum flexibility when it’s time to do your tax returns.
The one downside of using H&R Block to do your taxes is that it lacks TurboTax’s handy free audit defense option. It does offer worry-free audit support for a fee, but you’re on your own if you opt for the free tax prep plan.
TaxACT offers the same robust free tax software plans as others on this list, with elevated pricing tiers for more complex tax filing situations (like adding state taxes, investments, rental property, and self-employment taxes). Where this option stands out is its $100,000 accuracy guarantee, which reimburses you for mistakes resulting in a too-small refund or too-large tax bill.
TaxACT also delivers a straightforward, easy-to-use interface. The free plan is pretty comprehensive, too, with multiple income sources covered (including child tax credits) and a nice prior-year import feature to help you next year.
Their free account also comes with basic technical support, which is a nice add-on when you’re down to the wire and run into a tricky tax question. They cover complex and simple tax returns, student loans, and everything else.
An up-and-coming choice for the best tax software on the market, TaxSlayer offers an excellent free option. See their “Excellent” TrustPilot rating, but be warned that the minority of users who don’t like them, really don’t like them. Their pricing structure is simple and straightforward; you pay only for state taxes with the basic plan, or up to $54.95 for self-employed tax returns.
The self-employed tax price is among the lowest on our list (except for Credit Karma’s wow-getting 100% free option). Plus, TaxSlayer’s free plan includes a 100% accuracy guarantee, with reimbursement for mistakes, plus phone and email support.
While every pricing tier comes with free technical support for the software, only Premium or Self-Employed packages provide live tax support.
6. Jackson Hewitt Online
Similar to H&R Block’s offering, Jackson Hewitt lets you file online or in an office. Or you can start online, get as far as you can, and head into the brick-and-mortar location to finish up. With 6,000 offices around the U.S., locations aren’t quite as thick on the ground as H&R Block, but most people will find one nearby.
The pricing structure is affordable, with a $25 federal tax return price no matter what your tax situation, from simple to complex. You can tack on unlimited state returns for $24, which is a nice perk if you’ve got rental or freelance income coming in from other states. Unlike some of their competitors, Jackson Hewitt does not charge per return on state taxes.
It’s also really nice that you can completely hand your taxes off to a tax pro, who will request all your documents and data to handle the data entry. This is a great option if you don’t want to mess around with online tax software in your evenings after work.
If you want a solid option that only charges $14.99 per state return, FreeTaxUSA is a smart choice. They make their money on those state returns, and while $14.99 is low, it adds up if you have to file in multiple states.
FreeTaxUSA charges $6.99 for their Deluxe edition, which adds priority support, unlimited amendments, and their Audit Assist feature. It’s not quite on par with TurboTax’s free Audit Defense feature, because TurboTax will actually represent you and FreeTaxUSA stops short at coaching you through an audit.
This is a comprehensive tax filing product for a low price, with an easy user interface and accurate results. You’re still better off choosing TurboTax for even better support or Credit Karma to avoid fees.
Following the H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt model, LibertyTax backs up its online tax prep software with in-person support. However, unlike its competitors, LibertyTax doesn’t have the same physical presence with less than 4,000 offices in the U.S.
They still get comparable customer satisfaction ratings when compared to the other entries on this list of the best tax software, and they offer a similar product quality. You’ll pay $44.95 for federal filings with any tax situation, and about $35 for state filings.
LibertyTax has a simple user interface and an excellent mobile app. But it’s on the expensive side, and its coverage of IRS forms and schedules isn’t as comprehensive as it could be.
The best tax preparation software on the market is Credit Karma’s tax software for its 100% free platform with an excellent user interface. TurboTax (by Intuit, maker of other bank products like QuickBooks and Mint) comes in second with a great paid option. TurboTax’s robust software covers multiple tax situations, along with simple returns and complex setups, with a free version and expert help from real professionals.
About the Author: Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.
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