Tax Preparation Software Program Reviews

18 software programs are available to help individuals prepare their tax returns

There's a wide range of software to choose from for preparing a personal income tax return in the United States. Tax software programs vary in features, price, whether they are downloaded to the desktop or accessed through a Web site. Below are brief evaluations of tax software based on our testing and rating method. Eighteen programs are sorted by ranking. Within each ranking, the software is sorted alphabetically.

What the rankings mean:

  • Highly recommended. The software is top-notch and has an interesting user interface or unique functionality.
  • Recommended. The software has a good user interface and all the functionality needed to prepare a federal tax return.
  • Average. While the software is fully functional to prepare a federal return, the interface might not be as snazzy or the help content might be limited compared to competing products.
  • Not recommended. We encountered problems in the software that prevent us from completing a sample tax return, or we are concerned about the security or accuracy of the software.

Excel1040

Screen shot of Excel1040, a downloadable spreadsheet created by Glenn Reeves.
Excel1040 by Glenn Reeves

Highly Recommended.

By far my favorite tax software, Excel1040 is a downloadable spreadsheet to prepare the federal Form 1040. The spreadsheet looks similar to the federal tax form, which makes it easy for people to learn how to work with the tax forms directly.

The spreadsheet supports Schedules A, B, C, D, E, and SE, and Forms 2441, 2555, 6251, 8949, 8959, 8960 and 8962. Preparing a return is quick and easy, especially if one is familiar with spreadsheets and the tax forms. Electronic filing is not supported. State tax returns are also not supported.

I use this software personally to get a quick tax calculation without going through my professional software. I also send this software to clients who are used to doing their tax calculations manually.

Developer Glenn Reeves offers the software as a free download, but gladly accepts donations. More

FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition

Highly Recommended.

FreeTaxUSA deserves high marks for its help features, good use of screen space, and review functions. The software's Support Center and Tax Help Menu really make it shine in user-friendliness.

Preparing a federal tax return is free for individuals between the ages of 17 and 75, and with adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less, and reside in any state except AK, FL, NV, NH, SD, TN, TX, WA and WY.

State returns cost an extra $12.95 More

H&R Block At Home

Highly Recommended.

If your tax return gets audited, an H&R Block employee will attend the audit with you as part of their "Worry Free Audit Support" program. This is a unique feature of the H&R Block software and sets it apart from similar tax software.

Similar to other tax preparation programs, H&R Block At Home offers a clean interface consisting of questions and answers along with input sheets. The software lacks the tax planning features found in other big name tax programs, however.

The cost to prepare a federal return ranges from free to $74.99. State tax returns cost an additional $29.99 to $39.99.

H&R Block's software is also available in a Free File version. Free File is available for individuals with adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less, and are between the ages of 17 and 50. Active duty military also qualify for the free software.

H&R Block does not charge additional fees for preparing the state tax return, as long as the person qualifies for the federal Free File version. More

TaxACT

Highly Recommended.

TaxACT's colorful and friendly interface and strong help functions makes the software highly useful. While it does take some time to go through the program's question-and-answer interface, TaxACT provides multiple ways to access helpful content, and provides utilities for importing data, analyzing the tax return, and checking for errors. TaxACT earns high marks for including features to plan out next year's taxes through its withholding calculator, the ability to build what-if scenarios to test out tax strategies for future years. TaxACT also provides worksheets to help parents and students fill out their FAFSA applications.

Cost ranges from free to $34.99 for their Web-based software, with state returns costing an extra $14.99 or $24.99.

The desktop versions of TaxACT cost between free and $39.99 for their desktop software, which permits the end-user to electronically file up to five federal returns. State returns cost an additional $14.99 for the free federal version. For the Basic, Plus and Premium versions, end-users can prepare and electronically file one state return for free.

The Free File version of TaxACT is available for people with adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less and age 56 or younger. State returns are available at no additional cost if the person qualifies for the federal free file version. More

TurboTax

Highly Recommended.

TurboTax gets high marks for its easily accessible help content, frequent reviews to check for errors and professional look and feel. TurboTax can import data from a variety of employers and financial institutions. The software also provides functionality to prepare an extension or amended return, and helps calculate withholding allowances.

TurboTax has four pricing tiers: free, $54.99, $79.99, and $104.99 for preparing a federal return. Preparing a state return costs an additional $39.99 (or free for customers using the federal free edition).

TurboTax also offers a Free File version for individuals with adjusted gross income of $31,000 or less. More

EfileTaxReturns

Recommended.

EFileTaxReturns has a nicely designed interface with contextual help, and it's easy to navigate to different parts of the software. The software checks for errors at the end of the tax preparation process.

Free for federal use for individuals who are filing the Form 1040EZ. Otherwise, prices range from $19,95 to $49.95 for preparing a federal return.

State returns cost $24.95. More

Liberty Tax Online

Recommended.

Liberty Tax Online is a quick, fully functional software is best suited for people who want to dig into the data entry with a minimum of clicking. Formerly known as TaxBrain, Liberty Tax Online features data entry worksheets instead of a series of questions and answers.

Cost to prepare a federal return ranges from $19.95 to $79.95, depending on the version of the software. Preparing a state return costs an additional $31.95. More

OnePriceTaxes

Recommended.

OnePriceTaxes is an adequate tax preparation program. Users can choose between an question-and-answer easy interview or navigate directly to a menu of input worksheets. It is nearly identical to Jackson Hewitt Online. Support available through live chat and email. Can import data from Shoeboxed, Outright or Etsy.

Cost ranges from free to $39.95 for the federal return. State returns are included at no additional cost. More

TaxSlayer

Recommended.

TaxSlayer earns high marks for offering users multiple ways to navigate the software, its simple and uncluttered design, and helpful explanations of tax topics.

This software is available in English or Spanish.

TaxSlayer has three pricing tiers: free, $12.99, and $34.99 for preparing a federal return. State returns cost an additional $14.99 or $23.99.

TaxSlayer is also available in a Free File version for individuals with adjusted gross income under $62,000 and age 52 or younger. State returns cost an additional $14.99 for the Free File version.  More

1040.com Free File Edition

Average.

Efficient, though not glitzy, 1040.com's help functions are pretty decent.

The software's error check caught a data entry error, and we were able to jump from one part of the tax software to another part when needed.

Offers free extensions.

Free for federal use for individuals with adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less, and age 52 or younger.

State returns cost $14.95. More

1040NOW Free File Edition

Average.

1040NOW provides an excellent summary of new tax changes, however the software's interface and navigation flow can be confusing.

1040NOW is free for federal use:

  • Either (1) adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less and residing in the states of AL, AZ, AR, CA, GA, ID, IN, IA, KY, MI, MN, MS, MO, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, VT, VA or WV;
  • Or (2) adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less, and age 60 or younger, and residing in the states of CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MT, NE, NJ, NM, OH, PA, UT or WI.

State returns cost $17.95. More

eSmart Tax

Average.

eSmart Tax Premium is a fully functional tax preparation software, but it lacks the help content and tax optimizing tools found in competing software products.

Cost to prepare a federal return ranges from free to $59.95. Preparing a state return costs an additional $31.95. More

ezTaxReturn Free File Edition

Average.

EZ Tax Return sports worksheet-based data input screens, which minimize clicking and speed up the tax preparation process. This is a nice change of pace from the question-and-answer interface of the big name tax preparation software.

The limited help content, however, makes EZ Tax Return more difficult for the casual user.

Preparing a federal tax return is free for individuals with adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less and living in AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, IL, LA, MA, MD, MI, MS, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, VA or WI.

State tax returns cost an additional $19.95. More

FileYourTaxes Free File Edition

Average.

FileYourTaxes checks for errors after each data input screen and can file extensions. However, the software's navigation may be particularly frustrating for some people. More

Online Taxes (OLT) Free File Edition

Average.

While OnLine Taxes is a fully functional tax preparation program, the biggest drawback is the lack of more contextual help to explain particular tax topics. The software can prepare extensions and amended returns.

The cost is free for individuals with adjusted gross income between $13,000 and $62,000. If a person does not qualify for the free version, then the cost is $7.95 for the federal return and for each state return. More

eSmartTax Free File Edition

Not recommended.

While the free edition of eSmart Tax provides a fine experience for taxpayers with relatively simple tax situations, the software's help functions are limited to providing answers to common questions. We were not able to complete our sample tax return due to an error message relating to rental income that we couldn't resolve.

Free for federal use for individuals with adjusted gross income of $62,000 or less and between the ages of 18 and 54. Preparing a state tax return costs an additional $19.95. More

Free 1040 Tax Return Free File Edition

Not recommended.

Going through Free 1040 Tax Return quickly to prepare a mock tax return using just one W-2 form, I found this software to be a bit tedious. To be fair, the software is free. But the limited help content means this software is suited for people who are already familiar with how to prepare tax returns.

We have concerns about the security of user's Social Security numbers.

Customers have posted complaints about this software on SiteJabber and with the Better Business Bureau. More

Jackson Hewitt Online

Not Recommended.

Jackson Hewitt Online is a suitable and average tax preparation program. Users can choose between an question-and-answer easy interview or navigate directly to a menu of input worksheets. When signing out, it was difficult to get back to where we left off in the process. Provides support through live chat, telephone and email.

Jackson Hewitt Online is nearly identical to OnePriceTaxes, which has better pricing and data import functionality. Thus we recommend people try OnePriceTaxes over Jackson Hewitt Online.

The cost to prepare a federal return ranges from free to $74.95, depending on the version of the software selected. Preparing a state tax return is either free or costs an additional $39.95. More

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