Best Tax Prep Software and Apps

couple completing tax returns

The following is presented for informational purposes and is not intended as tax or legal advice.

Getting ready to file your tax returns? If you’re prepping to meet the April 15th deadline to file your individual returns for 2018, you might be considering going the DIY route. According to the National Society of Accountants, the average preparation costs to file a Form 1040 and state return was $176. That’s without itemized deductions. For an itemized Form 1040 with a Schedule A, you’re looking at an average of $273 in preparation costs.

By putting in the time to prepare your taxes yourself, you could save some money. In our round up of popular, affordable online tax prep options, we’ll cover what they cost, what they do for you, and why they’re a solid choice:

TurboTax

TurboTax has an clean interface, and will guide you, step-by-step, by asking you a series of questions. What’s neat about TurboTax’s tax prep software is that you can snap photos of your W-2 forms instead of inputting all the details manually. You can also search for hundreds of tax deductions, which will help you maximize your tax refund.

Cost: TurboTax is known to be a bit pricier than its competitors, but it also includes a handful of neat features. There are several pricing tiers. If you’re filing a simple return, and file W-2 income, claim the standard deduction, earned income tax credit, or child tax credit, you can file both state and federal taxes for free. If you’re filing a simple tax return, but would like to opt into the TurboTax Live version, which means your returns will be reviewed by a CPA or EA (enrolled agent), it will cost $79.99.

But if your tax situation is more complex, you’re looking at $59.99 to file your federal returns for its Deluxe version, and $39.99 for the state returns.

A note about pricing: Most tax preparation apps and software tend to bump up their prices closer to the April 15th filing date, and pricing oftentimes changes.

H&R Block

Like TurboTax, H&R Block’s online tax prep platform enables you to snap pics of your W-2 forms, import info from other tax preparation software, and check the status of your tax refund. Its interface is simple and is designed to help you prep and file your taxes painlessly. In 2018 H&R Block launched its new Self-Employment version. If you’re self-employed, you can sync up to the free Stride Tax app, which lets you track your expenses and find tax savings.

A major advantage that H&R Block touts is that you have unlimited access to a tax expert via live chat. Whereas with TurboTax, you’ll need to pony up an additional fee to have access to a tax pro.

Cost: If you’re preparing and filing taxes on your own, H&R Block offers a free version for those who have W-2 income, dependents, and no mortgage. If you’re a homeowner, make charitable donations, and have an HSA, the Deluxe Online version is $29.99 to file your federal returns, and is $36.99 to file your state returns.

The Premium Online version, which is best for freelancers, contractors, and filers with investments, is $49.99 to file your federal returns, and $36.99 to file your federal returns. You can also meet with one of its tax specialists at a brick-and-mortar location. The cost to do so starts at $59.00.

TaxAct

You’ll find TaxAct to be more affordable than its competitors, such as TurboTax and H&R Block. It recently underwent a new revamp, and has a cleaner, more contemporary design. Its free version enables you file a Form 1040, while claiming the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, education credits, and credit for child and dependent care expenses.

There’s also a handful of free tools and resources available on the site, including a tax calculator, tax bracket calculator, self-employment calculator, and other self-employment tax resources. Plus, when you file with TaxAct, you can access up to seven years of prior returns for free.

Cost: Depending on your situation, the TaxAct offers different pricing tiers. For all pricing tiers, there’s an additional charge for filing state returns.

Free: For simple tax returns. If you’re single and married, have W-2 income, retirement income (includes free account support)
$14.95: If you’re a single or married filer and have dependents, and college expenses (includes unlimited tax specialist support)
$47.95: If you’re a homeowner, have itemized deductions, and an HSA (includes tax specialist phone support)
$57.95: Includes investments, rental property, foreign bank and financial accounts, and royalty and Schedule K-1 income (includes prioritized support)

Credit Karma

Primarily known for being a credit monitoring service, in 2016 Credit Karma began to offer tax preparation software. Credit Karma goes beyond just the new Form 1040 and supports a variety of forms. It can also help you file if you had to pay self-employment taxes, and report your profit and loss statements from a business.

Similar to comparable tax preparation software, it walks you through the tax preparation process by asking you a series of questions. What’s more, it offers a max refund guarantee, and an audit defense feature.

It supports state filing if you and your spouse (if filing jointly) lived and worked in a single state for the entire tax year. What it can’t accommodate: Foreign earned income, if you’re married and filing separate returns in community property states, or a state filing without doing a federal filing. Credit Karma’s tax prep software also doesn’t support multiple state filings, part-year state filing, or non-resident state filing.

Cost: Yes, it’s completely free to file both federal and state tax returns.

If you’d like help with guidance on filing your taxes, there is free help available. If you make $55,000 or less, have a disability or have limited English-speaking abilities, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax prep assistance. Its staff of trained volunteers can sit down with you, answer any questions you have, and walk you the process of preparing your tax returns.

If your tax refund is smaller than expected, or the amount owed is higher than you can manage, consider connecting with a trained budgeting specialist. The counselors at Money Management International (MMI) can help you streamline your income and expenses to smooth out any unexpected bumps in the road.

Tagged in Taxes, Best Of, Reducing expenses

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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