Tax Software: Best Programs

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Tax software programs allow individuals and business owners with little to no tax knowledge to accurately file their tax returns, get their maximum owed refund, and avoid IRS audits. What’s more, tax preparation software makes online tax filing a breeze by walking users through every step of the process and checking for errors and deductions along the way.    

We looked at close to a dozen tax software programs for this review and chose the best based on ease of use, the support offered, cost, guarantees and reimbursements, and more. Here are our top picks.

Tax Software: Best Programs for 2021

Best Overall : TurboTax

Intuit Turbotax

Intuit Turbotax

TurboTax was developed in 1984 by Intuit, the company behind the popular suite of Quicken accounting software. Today it is the most widely-used tax software available. We chose it as the best overall due to its ease of use, live support options, and purpose-based pricing.

What We Like
  • Easy-to-use tax wizard

  • Upgradable tax support

  • DIY and live assist plans

What Don't We Like
  • Limited tax support unless you pay

  • Expensive state filing fees

TurboTax makes it easy for first-time or inexperienced tax filers to get started. Users are first asked to choose their situation, like “I want to maximize deductions and credits,” “I have a job (received W-2,” etc. This helps TurboTax determine which pricing plan is right for the user. The software then uses plain-language questions to walk users through every part of the tax filing process and includes quick explanations of confusing terms or processes.

TurboTax also offers many other conveniences, including importing a PDF of a previous return to start a new return, importing W-2 and 1099 forms by snapping a picture of them, and the ability to file taxes using the TurboTax mobile app. Users also have the option to get their return reviewed by a CPA or agent before they file as well as unlimited live tax advice for an extra fee.     

TurboTax offers a variety of pricing plans. Users can choose from one of four DIY TurboTax plans or four TurboTax Live plans. Fees for all plans are only due at the time of filing.

Read our full TurboTax review

TurboTax Plans
Free Plan Deluxe Plan Premier Plan Self-Employed Plan
FREE $60 + $50 per state filed $90 + $50 per state filed $120 + $50 per state filed
Free filing of simple federal and state tax returns All Free Plan features All Deluxe Plan features All Premier Plan features
Covers W-2 income, Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC), and child tax credits Searches 350+ tax deductions and credits Covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investments Help for contractors, freelancers, and small business owners
Import PDF return from other tax software Maximizes mortgage and property tax deductions Auto import investment income Industry-specific deductions
Audit Support Guarantee Homeowner tax breaks (Schedule A) Rental property income and tax deductions One-on-one help from self-employment specialists
24/7 access to an online community One-on-one on-demand help   Expense, mileage, and job tracking
      Import 1099-MISC from a photo
TurboTax Live Plans
  Basic Plan   Deluxe Plan   Premier Plan   Self-Employed Plan
$80 + $45 per state filed $120 + $55 per state filed $170 + $55 per state filed $200 + $55 per state filed
Prep, print, and e-file with help from a tax expert All Basic Plan features All Deluxe Plan features All Premier Plan features
Import W-2 from a photo Talk with a tax expert about 350+ deductions and credits Covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investments Tax advice for self-employment income and expenses
Final review and/or filing from a CPA or EA Review mortgage tax deductions with a CPA or EA Auto import investment income Industry-specific deductions
  Donation deduction support Covers rental property income and tax deductions Personalized audit assessment
    Account for gains and losses from cryptocurrency transactions Expense, mileage, and job tracking

Runner-Up, Best Overall : H&R Block

H&R Block

  H&R Block

Founded in 1955, H&R Block has grown to become the most recognized tax preparation firm for small businesses. The company operates over 12,000 offices worldwide as well as online tax preparation, payroll, and business consulting services. We chose it as our runner up because it offers most of the same online services as TurboTax with a slightly less intuitive interface but at a lower cost.

What We Like
  • Walk-in help at 12,000 locations

  • Upgradable tax support options

  • DIY and live support plans

What Don't We Like
  • Limited tax support unless you pay

  • More expensive than competitors

H&R Block offers practically everything that TurboTax does for a little less. Users get a similar interface that walks them through the tax preparation process, popup explanations, and the ability to have a return reviewed by an accountant for an extra fee. Unlike TurboTax, however, users can also go to a brick-and-mortar H&R Block office to talk to an expert in person.

Like TurboTax, H&R Block lets users get started quickly by importing taxes from a previous year and uploading a photo of their W-2 form. It also offers a free plan for simple tax returns like TurboTax but with the added benefit of being able to file Schedule 1 through 3 forms which allow users to report business income, alimony, deductible student loan interest, and more. 

Like TurboTax, H&R Block splits its offering between the DIY File Online and Online Assist plans. All plans include on-demand chat, screen sharing, and an online help center.

Read our full H&R Block review

H&R Block File Online Plans
Free Online Plan Deluxe Online Plan Premier Online Plan Self-Employed Online Plan
FREE $49.99 + $44.99 per state filed $69.99 + $44.99 per state filed $104.99 + $44.99 per state filed
Snap-a-pic W-2 import All Free Online Plan features All Deluxe Online Plan features All Premium Online Plan features
Self-help via a help center Six years' access to tax returns Import expenses from popular expense tracking apps Expense import from popular expense tracking apps
Technical support (by chat) DeductionPro® to optimize donations Cost basis calculation Import Uber driver tax information
Earned Income Tax Credit Technical support (by chat or phone) Freelance/Contractor income with expenses less than $5,000 Small business expenses (home office, depreciation, vehicle, etc.)
Child care expenses Health Savings Account (HSA) Stock sales income  
Student loan interest Real estate taxes Rental property income  
Retirement plan income Mortgage interest    
Social Security income      
Child tax credit      
H&R Block Online Assist Plans
Basic Online Assist Plan Deluxe Online Assist Plan Premier Online Assist Plan Self-Employed Online Assist Plan
$69.99 + $39.99 per state filed $109.99 + $49.99 per state filed $159.99 + $49.99 per state filed $189.99 + $49.99 per state filed
Unlimited expert help All Basic Online Assist Plan features All Deluxe Online Assist Plan features All Premium Online Assist Plan features
Snap-a-pic W-2 import Unlimited expert help Cost basis calculation Expense import from popular expense tracking apps
Technical support (by chat) Six years' access to tax returns Freelance/Contractor income with expenses less than $5,000 Import Uber driver tax information
Earned Income Tax Credit DeductionPro® to optimize donations Stock sales income Small business expenses (home office, depreciation, vehicle, etc.)
Child care expenses Transparent pricing with Price Preview Rental property income  
Student loan interest Guidance for homeowners    
Retirement plan income Technical support (by chat or phone)    
Social Security income Health Savings Account (HSA)    
Child tax credit Real estate taxes    
  Mortgage interest    

Best Value : TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer

Founded in the 1960s, Georgia-based tax preparation company, Rhodes-Murphy & Co., launched an online tax preparation service for tax preparers and accountants called TaxSlayer in the early 1990s. We chose it as the best value because it offers the lowest, comprehensive, DIY tax filing plans of any of the companies we reviewed.

What We Like
  • Affordably-priced

  • Low state filing fees

  • 100% accuracy guarantee

What Don't We Like
  • Less intuitive interface than competitors’

  • Few additional tax support options

TaxSlayer offers a simple interface like most of the providers we reviewed. Users just start by entering their tax situation (or importing last year’s tax return), enter their income, or import a W-2, and the software gets to work finding the best deductions. On-screen explanations aren’t as comprehensive as that of TaxSlayer’s competitors, but users can access phone and email tech support.

Unlike other providers, TaxSlayer offers limited options to access accountants or professionals who can review a tax return. Nonetheless, the company offers a 100% accuracy guarantee and reimburses its customers for any federal or state penalties and interest charges. TaxSlayer also states that if their customers don’t receive the maximum refund they are entitled to, they will refund the applicable fees.

Read our full TaxSlayer review

TaxSlayer Plans
Simple Free Plan Classic Plan Premium Plan Self-Employed Plan
FREE $17 + $39 per state filed $37 + $39 per state filed $47 + $39 per state filed
Prepare, print, and e-file All Simple Free Plan features All Classic Plan features All Premium Plan features
Includes W-2 income Includes all credits like Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit IRS Audit Assistance for three full years Guidance with 1099 income
Student loan interest and education expenses Includes all deductions and adjustments to income Ask a tax pro Maximize Schedule C work expense deductions
Free phone and email support Includes all income types – no form or schedule restrictions Priority phone and email support Quarterly estimated tax payment reminders
  W-2 import and PDF upload Live chat Personalized guide to self-employed taxes
    Unlimited assistance Year-round tax and income tips

Best Free Tax Software : Credit Karma

Credit Karma

Credit Karma

Created in 2007 to provide consumers with free credit scores and reports, Credit Karma began offering free online tax filing in 2016. We chose it as the best free tax software because it offers truly free tax filing services for both simple and complex returns.

What We Like
  • Free filing for all tax returns

  • Imports from other tax software

  • Free audit defense support

What Don't We Like
  • Doesn’t support all forms

  • No multi-state filing

  • No phone support

Like its competitors, Credit Karma lets users import a previous return from other software and a photo of a W-2 and then walks them through the rest of the process using a series of questions and prompts.

Credit Karma claims to offer more filing options than its competitors’ free versions, including filing for mortgage interest, property tax, and student loan interest deductions. The software doesn’t support every type of form, however. Individuals filing in multiple states or who receive funds from a trust or estate need to look elsewhere.      

As a free service, Credit Karma offers no phone support. It does, however, include audit defense for its customers which includes consultation from a representative in the event of an IRS audit who will also attend a hearing on their behalf. Users also get accurate calculations and max refund guarantees with reimbursements up to $1,000 in IRS or state tax penalties and up to $100 if another provider shows a larger refund.

Best Support : Jackson Hewitt

Jackson Hewitt

Jackson Hewitt

Another offering of American entrepreneur John Hewitt, Jackson Hewitt was founded in 1982 and has become the second-largest tax-preparation service in the United States. In 2014, it began offering online tax preparation and filing services. We chose it for the best support because it offers extensive online help and a variety of professional assistance options.

What We Like
  • Live online support

  • Tax professionals can finish for you

  • 100% accuracy guarantee

What Don't We Like
  • Limited tax support unless you pay

  • Only imports past Jackson Hewitt returns

On the surface, Jackson Hewitt doesn’t appear to offer anything different than any of the other software we reviewed. It lets users import a W-2 and tax returns filed with Jackson Hewitt (but not its competitors) and then walks them through the filing process through a series of questions with explanatory popups. 

Where Jackson Hewitt stands out, however, is in its Tax Pro From Home service. Users simply upload their tax documents online and one of the company’s tax professionals takes over. Any questions and issues are resolved online or over the phone giving customers the experience of working one-on-one with a professional without having to enter an actual office.

Those who want to stick to Jackson Hewitt’s DIY online filing can still enjoy support through an extensive online help center, connect to a real person during business hours via live chat, and benefit from the company’s 100% accuracy guarantee.        

Jackson Hewitt has done away with multiple plans for online filers. One $49 fee covers all situations and includes both federal and state filing. However, those filing only federal taxes can do so for only $25.

Best Accuracy Guarantee : TaxAct

TaxAct

TaxAct

TaxAct was created in 1998 to offer affordable digital and download tax preparation services to individuals and small businesses. Since 2000, the company has helped electronically file over 65 million federal returns. We chose it as the best accuracy guarantee because it offers the most reimbursement for any difference in liability or refund of any provider we reviewed.

What We Like
  • Import from most popular tax software

  • Highest accuracy guarantee reimbursement

  • Online or downloadable software

What Don't We Like
  • Limited support for free plan

  • No audit support

TaxAct offers nothing new feature-wise than most other tax software programs. Users can import W-2 forms as well as previous returns from other software and then use an online help wizard to answer questions and file their return. TaxAct also offers a downloadable version of its software for Mac and PCs for those who don’t want to prepare their taxes online.  

Despite its simplicity, TaxAct offers free and unlimited phone, email, and online chat support. Each plan also comes with a maximum refund and a 100% accuracy guarantee. Unlike other software that offers limited reimbursement options, TaxAct will refund the cost of the software and pay the difference in either the lower refund or higher tax liability, plus any legal costs or penalties, up to $100,000.   

TaxAct offers a free plan for simple returns and support as well as three paid plans which can handle increasingly complex tax filings and offer additional support options.

Read our full TaxAct review

Tax Act Plans
Free Plan Deluxe Plan Premier+ Plan Self Employed+ Plan
FREE $54.95 + $54.95 per state filed $79.95 + $54.95 per state filed $109.95 + $54.95 per state filed
W-2 income All Free Plan features All Deluxe+ Plan features All Premier+ Plan features
Dependents Itemized deductions Stocks, gains and losses, sales of home or other investments Freelance income
Earned income credit Child & dependent care Royalty and Schedule K-1 income Business & farm income
Child tax credits Mortgage interest Investment income expenses Personalized business deductions
Current students Real estate taxes Rental property income Calculate depreciation
Retirement income Student loan interest Foreign bank and financial accounts Year-round planning resources
Prior year import Health savings account (HSA) Prioritized support, including screen sharing  
Unlimited account support Adoption credits    
  Tax specialist phone support    

Final Verdict

According to a National Society of Accountants survey, the average cost of having a tax return prepared by a professional is $176 and can run as high as $1,563. Online tax filing software can file simple tax returns for free and more complex ones for as little as $46. What’s more, most tax software offers both maximum refund and accuracy guarantees, reimbursing customers for any loss up to a certain amount.    

“Online tax software is great for people who don’t have overly complex taxes to file,” says Jacob Dayan Esq., CEO and Co-founder of Community Tax. “These services will perform just as well if you were to go in to personally file your taxes with a tax professional most of the time.” 

Any of these tax software options can work, depending on your needs and your budget. However, we recommend TurboTax as our best overall choice because of its easy-to-use platform, live support features, and variety of pricing plan options.

2020 Taxes and COVID-19

Because COVID-19, filing taxes may be different and more complicated in 2020 than in previous years. Some people moved cities, filed for unemployment, or started working from home, adding additional forms and changing their filing requirements.

As a result, unless someone’s employment was completely unchanged by COVID-19, we recommend starting with a provider that offers a free plan with the option to upgrade to a paid plan if the return turns out to be more complicated.

With the second wave of Economic Impact Payments rolling out in January 2021, many tax software providers are also working with the IRS to update their customers on when they can expect their stimulus check or direct deposit payment.

Compare Programs

Software What We Picked It For Notable Features
TurboTax Best Overall Easy-to-use tax wizard with DIY and live assist plans
H&R Block Runner-Up, Best Overall DIY and live assist plans with walk-in help at 12,000 locations
TaxSlayer Best Value Affordably-priced with low state filing fees
Credit Karma Best Free Tax Software Free tax filing for simple and most complex situations
Jackson Hewitt Best Support Tax returns can be handed over to a professional for completion
TaxAct Best Accuracy Guarantee Accuracy guarantee reimbursement up to $100,000

FAQs

What Are Tax Software Programs?

Tax software programs automate nearly every aspect of preparing and filing tax returns. Most offer a simple interface that walks users step-by-step through filling out forms, determining deductions, recording income, and more, and then electronically files it for a fee.

“If you aren't as experienced with tax software, you may need to look for software that also offers a support service so that, if you do hit a wall, they can be there to assist,” says Matthew Dailly, Managing Director at Tiger Financial. As a result, most software offers some level of live support to ensure that a return is completed and filed properly and back it up with accuracy and maximum refund guarantees, reimbursing customers for any loss up to a certain amount.

Why Do People Need Tax Software Programs?

For those who don’t want to pay a professional to prepare their tax returns, tax software has two distinct benefits over trying to go it alone. The first is to ensure that every required expense and form are recorded and filed properly.

The second thing tax software can do is maximize tax returns. Because tax laws are changing all of the time, individuals and businesses can’t keep track of every available new deduction. Since tax software gets updated constantly, users are guaranteed to find the latest opportunities to get more money back on their returns.

How Much Does Tax Software Cost?

Most major tax software programs allow users to file very simple tax returns for free. From there, they offer tiered plans that can handle more complex types of filings and often include additional levels of support (live chat, one-on-one consults, etc.).

The paid plans we reviewed ranged from as low as $44.95 plus $34.95 per state filed to as high as $200 plus $55 per state filed. Every provider we reviewed allowed users to start and work on their returns for as long as they want for free and only charged them when it was time to file a return.

How Is Tax Software Different From Accounting Software?

Tax software often picks up where accounting software leaves off. Most accounting software is used to keep track of income and expenses throughout the year. By providing an accurate financial breakdown, this information can be used by small businesses to maximize their deductions and ensure accurate filing at tax time. Many accounting software geared for small businesses can provide certain forms that tax software needs.

How has Covid-19 Impacted Taxes?

Because COVID-19, filing taxes may be different and more complicated in 2020 than in previous years. Some people moved cities, filed for unemployment, or started working from home, adding additional forms and changing their filing requirements.

As a result, unless someone’s employment was completely unchanged by COVID-19, we recommend starting with a provider that offers a free plan with the option to upgrade to a paid plan if the return turns out to be more complicated.

With the second wave of Economic Impact Payments rolling out in January 2021, many tax software providers are also working with the IRS to update their customers on when they can expect their stimulus check or direct deposit payment.

How We Chose the Best Tax Software Programs

We looked at close to a dozen tax software programs for this review. At the top of our list was software that was easy to use since most people using these programs have little to no tax experience. Support was also an important consideration, so providers that offered more than online guides (like live chat or one-on-one phone support) ranked high.

Price was also an important issue. Because users inevitably absorb some risk by preparing their returns themselves, the software would have to cost considerably less than hiring a professional to make it worth the risk.

Finally, it was important for us to find software that offered generous accuracy and maximum benefit guarantees. While nothing can replace the personal expertise of an experienced accountant or tax professional, tax software companies willing to back up their products with real dollars is the next best thing.  

Article Sources

  1. National Society of Accountants. "NSA Survey Reveals Fee and Expense Data For Tax Accounting Firms in 2016 and 2017 Projections." Accessed Septemer 3, 2020.