The 7 Best Tax Software Programs of 2020

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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.   

“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.”

In fact, 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. Compare that to most tax software that can file simple tax returns for free or more complex ones for as little as $46. What’s more, most tax software offers both maximum refund and accuracy guarantees and reimburses their customers for any losses due to errors. 

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 seven picks.

The 7 Best Tax Software Programs of 2020

TurboTax: Best Overall

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.

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 and received a 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.

TurboTax Plans  

Free Plan

  • Free filing of simple federal and state tax returns
  • Covers W-2 income, Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC), and child tax credits
  • Import a PDF of return from another tax software
  • Audit Support Guarantee
  • 24/7 access to an online community

Deluxe Plan

  • $60 + $50 per state filed
  • All Free Plan features
  • Searches 350+ tax deductions and credits
  • Maximizes mortgage and property tax deductions
  • Homeowner tax breaks (Schedule A)
  • One-on-one on-demand help

Premier Plan

  • $90 + $50 per state filed
  • All Deluxe Plan features
  • Covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investments
  • Auto import investment income
  • Rental property income and tax deductions

Self-Employed Plan

  • $120 + $50 per state filed
  • All Premier Plan features
  • Guidance for contractors, freelancers, and small business owners
  • Uncover industry-specific deductions for more tax breaks
  • One-on-one help from self-employment specialists
  • Expense, mileage, and job tracking
  • Import 1099-MISC from a photo

TurboTax Live Plans  

Basic Plan

  • $80 + $45 per state filed
  • Prep, print, and e-file with help from a tax expert
  • Import W-2 from a photo
  • Final review and/or filing from a CPA or EA

Deluxe Plan

  • $120 + $55 per state filed
  • All Basic Plan features
  • Talk with a tax expert about 350+ deductions and credits
  • Review mortgage tax deductions with a CPA or EA
  • Donation deduction support

Premier Plan

  • $170 + $55 per state filed
  • All Deluxe Plan features
  • Covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investments
  • Auto import investment income
  • Covers rental property income and tax deductions
  • Account for gains and losses from cryptocurrency transactions

Self-Employed Plan

  • $200 + $55 per state filed
  • All Premier Plan features
  • Tax advice to make the most of self-employment income and expenses
  • Industry-specific deductions
  • Personalized audit assessment
  • Expense, mileage, and job tracking

H&R Block: Runner-Up, Best Overall

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.

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, pop-up 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.

File Online Plans

Free Online Plan

  • Free
  • Snap-a-pic W-2 import
  • Self-help via a help center
  • Technical support (by chat)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child care expenses
  • Student loan interest 
  • Retirement plan income
  • Social Security income
  • Child tax credit

Deluxe Online Plan

  • $49.99 + $44.99 per state filed
  • All Free Online Plan features
  • Six years' access to tax returns
  • DeductionPro® to optimize donations
  • Technical support (by chat or phone)
  • Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • Real estate taxes
  • Mortgage interest

Premium Online Plan

  • $69.99 + $44.99 per state filed
  • All Deluxe Online Plan features
  • Import expenses from popular expense tracking apps
  • Cost basis calculation
  • Freelance/Contractor income with expenses less than $5,000
  • Stock sales income
  • Rental property income

Self-Employed Online Plan

  • $104.99 + $44.99 per state filed
  • All Premium Online Plan features
  • Expense import from popular expense tracking apps
  • Import Uber driver tax information
  • Small business expenses, including home office, depreciation, and vehicle expenses

Online Assist Plans

Basic Online Assist Plan

  • $69.99 + $39.99 per state filed
  • Unlimited expert help
  • Snap-a-pic W-2 import
  • Technical support (by chat)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child care expenses
  • Student loan interest
  • Retirement plan income
  • Social Security income
  • Child tax credit

Deluxe Online Assist Plan

  • $109.99 + $49.99 per state filed
  • All Basic Online Assist Plan features
  • Unlimited expert help 
  • Six years' access to tax returns
  • DeductionPro® to optimize donations
  • Transparent pricing with Price Preview
  • Guidance for homeowners
  • Technical support (by chat or phone)
  • Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • Real estate taxes
  • Mortgage interest

Premium Online Assist Plan

  • $159.99 + $49.99 per state filed
  • All Deluxe Online Assist Plan features
  • Unlimited expert help
  • Import expenses from popular expense tracking apps
  • Cost basis calculation
  • Freelance/Contractor income with expenses less than $5,000
  • Stock sales income 
  • Rental property income

Self-Employed Online Assist Plan

  • $189.99 + $49.99 per state filed
  • All Premium Online Assist Plan features
  • Unlimited expert help 
  • Expense import from popular expense tracking apps
  • Import Uber driver tax information
  • Small business expenses, including home office, depreciation, and vehicle expenses

TaxSlayer: Best Value

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. Today, the company employs around 200 individuals and files over 10 million tax returns each year. We chose it as the best value because it offers the lowest, comprehensive, DIY tax filing plans of any of the companies we reviewed.

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), entering their income, or importing a W-2, and the software gets to work finding the best deductions. On-screen explanations aren’t as comprehensive as those 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.

Simple Free Plan

  • Free
  • Prepare, print, and e-file
  • Includes W-2 income
  • Student loan interest and education expenses
  • Free phone and email support

Classic Plan

  • $17 + $39 per state filed
  • All Simple Free Plan features
  • Includes all credits like Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit
  • Includes all deductions and adjustments to income
  • Includes all income types—no form or schedule restrictions
  • W-2 import and PDF upload

Premium Plan

  • $37 + $39 per state filed
  • All Classic Plan features
  • IRS Audit Assistance for three full years
  • Ask a tax pro
  • Priority phone and email support
  • Live chat
  • Unlimited assistance

Self-Employed Plan

  • $47 + $39 per state filed
  • All Premium Plan features
  • Guidance with 1099 income
  • Maximize Schedule C work expense deductions
  • Quarterly estimated tax payment reminders
  • Personalized guide to self-employed taxes
  • Year-round tax and income tips

Credit Karma: Best Free Tax Software

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.

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 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.

Jackson Hewitt: Best Support

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.

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 offers a free plan for simple returns as well as two paid plans. Pricing for its Tax Pro From Home plans is available by request.

Free Plan

  • Free
  • Best for simple returns
  • Single or married filing jointly
  • Up to $100,000 taxable income
  • Taking the standard deduction
  • W-2 wages and/or unemployment
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (no kids) 

Deluxe Plan

  • $49.95 + $44.95 per state filed
  • Best for families and retirees
  • Children and other dependents
  • Schedule EITC and Child Tax Credit
  • Dependent care expenses
  • Student loans, educator expenses
  • Retirement income

Premier Plan

  • $69.95 + $44.95 per state filed
  • Best for complex returns
  • Income over $100,000
  • Self-employment
  • Rental property
  • Itemized deductions
  • Other income, credits, or deductions

TaxAct: Best Accuracy Guarantee

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.

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 PC computers 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.

Free Plan

  • Free
  • W-2 income
  • Dependents
  • Earned income credit
  • Child tax credits
  • Current students
  • Retirement income
  • Prior year import
  • Unlimited account support

Deluxe+ Plan

  • $54.95 + $54.95 per state filed
  • All Free Plan features
  • Itemized deductions
  • Child & dependent care
  • Mortgage interest
  • Real estate taxes
  • Student loan interest
  • Health savings account (HSA)
  • Adoption credits
  • Tax specialist phone support

Premier+ Plan

  • $79.95 + $54.95 per state filed
  • All Deluxe+ Plan features
  • Stocks, gains and losses, sales of home or other investments
  • Royalty and Schedule K-1 income
  • Investment income expenses
  • Rental property income
  • Foreign bank and financial accounts
  • Prioritized support, including screen sharing

Self Employed+ Plan

  • $109.95 + $54.95 per state filed
  • All Premier+ Plan features
  • Freelance income
  • Business & farm income
  • Personalized business deductions
  • Calculate depreciation
  • Year-round planning resources

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.

Most software offers some level of live support to ensure that a return is completed and filed properly, and providers 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 wing it alone. The first is to ensure that every required expense and form are recorded and filed properly. We’ve never run into stories of anyone who actually enjoyed being audited by the IRS.

The second thing tax software can do is maximize tax returns. Because tax laws are changing all the time, it’s impossible for individuals and businesses to 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 when it was time to file a return.           

How Is Tax Software Different From Accounting Software?

Simply put, 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 actually provide certain forms that tax software needs. 

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, 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

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. National Society of Accountants. "NSA Survey Reveals Fee and Expense Data For Tax Accounting Firms in 2016 and 2017 Projections." Accessed September 3, 2020.