TurboTax Review

What you need to know before you file

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TurboTax

TurboTax

overall rating
4.0

Our Take

TurboTax’s tax preparation and filing software is a solid tax-filing option for those with fairly straightforward tax needs. Their detailed questions about your tax situation help you maximize your refund or minimize your amount due. Help from real CPAs or Enrolled Agents (EAs) is available for questions or troubleshooting, depending on the package you purchase.

  • Pros and Cons
  • Key Takeaways
  • Specifications
Pros and Cons
What We Like
  • Leader in the tax preparation software industry

  • Well-designed software with a great user experience

  • Different package options to choose from based on your needs

  • Ability to speak with a CPA or EA if you upgrade to TurboTax Live

  • Easy information upload and import options

  • Guarantees for accuracy and maximum refund

  • Support responds quickly as long as you don’t wait until the last minute

What We Don't Like
  • Except for the free version, software prices are usually higher than competitors

  • Free and low priced packages don’t work for complicated tax situations

  • Talking to a CPA or EA requires a higher-priced TurboTax Live package

  • Your tax situation may upgrade the online version of the software but not tell you the final price until you file

  • Manual information inputting takes time

  • No progress bar

Key Takeaways
  • TurboTax can help you prepare and file your tax return in the majority of circumstances.
  • It is one of the largest players in the tax preparation software industry.
  • Pricing may change and typically increases as the tax deadline nears.
  • The software lures you in at a cheaper level and often upsells you to a higher tier if you aren’t careful.
  • People unsure about preparing their taxes can pay more to get help from a CPA or EA.
  • Support times tend to get longer as tax day approaches.
Specifications
  • Owned by Intuit
  • Year founded 1984
  • Cost Free to $255+
  • Product options 12
  • Phone 1-800-446-8848
  • Official website https://turbotax.intuit.com

Introduction

If you’re confused when it comes to doing your taxes, even if they’re fairly straightforward, then using TurboTax is a solid DIY option. All you need to do is select the characteristics that apply to you (e.g., if you have kids, work a W-2 job, or pay rent) and TurboTax automatically suggests the best tax package for your needs at relatively affordable prices.

While you’ll usually need to input your tax forms on a desktop or laptop, certain versions of TurboTax may allow you to input your tax forms by using your smartphone. You just snap a photo of your W-2 and the information automatically populates.

TurboTax guarantees accuracy or they’ll pay your IRS or state penalty and interest charges due that are caused by a TurboTax calculation error. While we don’t recommend going toe-to-toe with the IRS, for beginners, this is a major plus. It also guarantees the largest refund or smallest tax amount due based on your circumstances, and it offers audit support from tax professionals all year long. 

Note, however, that the tax professional can’t represent you or provide legal advice unless you upgrade to a paid service. 

Read on to find out if TurboTax is the best choice for you, and make sure to check out our other picks when it comes to the best tax software programs to use before you file. 

Note

Many tax preparation services and software claim to get you the maximum refund. Every service should, in theory, prepare your tax return optimally based on your situation. They cannot create new deductions or credits or make you eligible for tax benefits you don’t qualify for.

Pricing and Packages

TurboTax offers four tiers of pricing in three different sets of options. The level of tax-related services and bonus features you get access to depends on which option you select. Prices range from $50 for most basic tax needs to $120 for the Home and Business package. If you are self-employed or own rental property, you will probably need one of the mid-range packages, which cost between $80 and $110.

If you need to file a state tax return, you can expect to pay $45 per state, and e-filing a state tax return will cost you an extra $25 (with a possible increase in March 2021). Some desktop packages come with one state tax software but not e-filing. 

TurboTax’s products are divided into online options and a desktop-based downloadable software which can also be purchased at brick-and-mortar retailers. The online options are further divided into a self-serve version and a CPA or Enrolled Agent assisted version. The self-serve and CPA or EA assisted options are the same as the online option except for the professional help.

Here’s a quick breakdown with a detailed explanation below. Note that all prices are the full listed price, but TurboTax occasionally runs discounts.

 TurboTax Version  Regular price  Price per additional state  CPA or EA assistance? Other Features 
Online Free Free Free No Only for the most simple tax returns
Online Live Basic $80 $45 Yes Same as Online Free
Desktop Basic $50  $45, e-file costs extra No, basic phone support Prep, print, and e-file your return, import financial data
Online Deluxe  $60 $50 No Additional help on 350+ tax deductions and credits; helps maximize property tax, mortgage, and charitable contribution deductions
Online Live Deluxe $120 $55 Yes Same as Online Deluxe
Desktop Deluxe $80 One state included but e-file costs extra, $45 per extra state No, basic phone support Additional help on 350+ tax deductions and credits; deductible feature included to help you value donated items
Online Premier $90 $50 No Includes investments, automatic import of investment income, rental properties, and cryptocurrency gains and losses
Online Live Premier $170 $55 Yes Same as Online Premier
Desktop Premier $110 One state included but e-file costs extra, $45 per extra state No, basic phone support Personalized advice to help maximize next year’s refund; additional help for investments, rental properties, and refinancing; retirement tax help
Online Self-Employed $120 $50 No Provides guidance and one-on-one help for contractors, freelancers, and small business owners; looks for industry-specific deductions
Online Live Self-Employed $200 $55 Yes Same as Online Self-Employed
Desktop Home & Business $120 One state included but e-file costs extra, $45 per extra state No, basic phone support Extra coaching to help self-employed people maximize tax deductions; creates W-2s and 1099s for employees and contractors; helps you figure out which startup expenses are deductible
Warning

TurboTax’s pricing may change throughout tax season. Expect deals early on in filing season to lure customers in. Be prepared for price increases as the tax deadline nears.

TurboTax Online Options

TurboTax Free is the cheapest option, but it’s only for people with the simplest tax situations. Thankfully, it’s easy to use and fast if you snap a photo of your W-2. You’ll also get audit support if you need it. Unfortunately, you get upgraded to a fee-based option if your situation goes much beyond having a W-2 or other extremely basic circumstances. The CPA and EA-assisted version of TurboTax Free is called TurboTax Live Basic, which costs $80 plus $45 per state return.

TurboTax Deluxe, which costs $60 plus $50 per state return, offers everything included in the TurboTax Free package. Their software searches for deductions and credits you qualify for (their website touts 350+deductions) and it also maximizes your mortgage deductions and deducts your eligible charitable contributions.

TurboTax Live Deluxe adds in CPA and EA assistance for $120 plus $55 per state return.

Tip

These options are best for those who own a home and have children or dependents, prefer a bit more CPA or EA help, or even those who have experienced some sort of major life change and have questions. It’s meant for those who want to maximize deductions and credits with a professional’s help.

TurboTax Premier costs $90 plus $50 per state return and it includes everything offered in the Deluxe package with a few more bells and whistles. For example, this level includes reporting your sales of any investments, stocks, or bonds as well as an auto-import option of your investment income. If you own a rental property, you get insight into how to maximize your rental property income. Another useful feature: help with accounting for gains/losses from any cryptocurrency transactions. So if you’re a Bitcoin fanatic, this one’s for you.

TurboTax Live Premier costs $170 plus $55 per state return and adds the help of a CPA or EA professional. People with these situations who don’t feel comfortable with the tax impacts may want to consider upgrading to Live Premier for help from a CPA or EA.

Tip

TurboTax’s Premier option is the best choice for those with investments and real estate property.

TurboTax Self-Employed is the version self-employed individuals need. It costs $120 plus $50 per state return. If you’ve ever worked for yourself, you know how complicated and stressful (not to mention expensive) tax time can be. TurboTax’s Self-Employed packaged helps take the stress out of the season. It includes all the features in the Premier option, as well as software-based guidance tailored to freelancers, contractors, and small business owners.

The Self-Employed option helps with finding deductions specific to your field. This is important as the more you can deduct from your taxable income, the lower your inevitable tax bill may be. You get one-on-one help from a TurboTax product specialist on-demand, as well as an audit assessment.

TurboTax Live Self-Employed adds the help of a CPA or EA when you need it. It costs $200 plus $55 per state return.

Tip

TurboTax Self-Employed is ideal for the self-employed people comfortable with taxes and their tax situation. For people that want a bit more help, consider TurboTax Live Self-Employed.

TurboTax Desktop

TurboTax offers desktop versions of their software that can be downloaded or purchased on a CD-ROM, too. These options are slightly different than their online counterparts, but pretty much match up with an online offering for the most part. The pricing is different, though.

The desktop software includes five federal e-files with each purchase, which is a contrast from the online option. That means you can split the cost between multiple returns if you have a big family. All versions of TurboTax Desktop come with U.S.-based phone TurboTax product support. 

TurboTax Desktop Basic is for simple tax situations and costs $50 for a federal return and $45 for each state return plus an additional fee if you want to e-file the state return. TurboTax Deluxe and higher each come with one free state download, but e-filing state returns cost extra. As of December 2020, the full price for a state e-file is $25, but TurboTax anticipates price increases in March 2021.

The desktop version of the software generally has an online equivalent. For instance, if you choose the TurboTax Desktop Basic, you can find many of the same features in the TurboTax Free online option. 

You can use this table to easily view the online equivalent of the desktop version to help you decide which is best for your needs:

TurboTax Desktop Option   TurboTax Online Option
TurboTax Desktop Basic TurboTax Free
TurboTax Desktop Deluxe TurboTax Online Deluxe
TurboTax Desktop Premier TurboTax Online Premier
TurboTax Desktop Home & Business TurboTax Online Self-Employed

Features

All in all, the best feature of TurboTax is the user experience of the software. The interactive card-based design helps make the tax-filing process a bit less painful, and the quippy content doesn’t hurt.

Another perk is the Show my refund so far option. It’s a real-time update of your refund, and it can go up or down based on what information is input.

Another great feature offered by TurboTax is the integration of QuickBooks Self-Employed, which is also owned by Intuit. QuickBooks is a great tool for the self-employed to track personal and business expenses (and keep them separate), as well as automatic mileage tracking, sending invoices, even managing your Schedule C deductions. The best part: It calculates your quarterly taxes, a must for serious freelancers. 

Ease of Use/Design

Creating an account and inputting information with TurboTax is relatively seamless, though time-consuming. You enter in your basic information—name, email, phone number—and a confirmation code is sent to your cell phone to ensure security. 

If you have a PDF of last year’s return (you should hold onto those), TurboTax automatically populates your address, previous year’s income, AGI, and applicable tax breaks. But if you don’t, you can select the manual option, which allows you to type in your information.

In lieu of filling out a boring questionnaire to input your marital status, number of dependents, and other information, TurboTax makes use of an interactive card-based website design, which improves the user experience. 

Once you answer a few questions, TurboTax gives you a rundown and then provides a list of the necessary documents you need to file, such as a 1098-E for student loan interest or a W-2 for your job. You can print this page, which may be helpful for those who are a bit less diligent about personal record-keeping.

You continue by inputting your and your dependents’ information. Since claiming dependents can be complicated, the tidbits of information shared along with the questionnaire help. 

Once you’re done inputting your information, which takes about 30 minutes depending on how complicated your background is and your typing speed, TurboTax moves on to your federal return, then state return. Then, you review your return and file it.

Downsides

While it’s simple enough to use, TurboTax’s software comes with a few cons. First, isn't a progress bar of the entire process, just a menu on the left side of your screen that shows which section you’re currently completing. A percentage-based indicator of a user’s progress would be a welcome addition but could be difficult to implement due to each person’s situation being unique.

Another con is that manually inputting your information takes a good chunk of time, so the automatic upload option is recommended.

It’s also worth noting that the desktop version of the software randomly closed during testing, citing a connection error. While this wasn’t a major issue during the review process, it would have been a very different story at 10 p.m. on April 14. 

Support

TurboTax offers support in many ways depending on the product you use to file your return. All products, including TurboTax Free, let you view TurboTax’s extensive database of FAQs and tax-related articles to help you understand potentially confusing concepts. You can get free help from their online community of TurboTax specialists and customers, too. Take this advance with a grain of salt, though. Customers may not always provide accurate information which could cause problems with your taxes.

TurboTax’s desktop products offer U.S. based phone support with TurboTax specialists. These specialists should be able to help you with your problems, but they’re probably not CPAs or EAs.

TurboTax’s online series of products offers one-on-one support with TurboTax specialists. These professionals can draw on your screen to help you fix any issues you have, but they’re not certified tax experts, such as CPAs or EAs.

TurboTax’s Live lineup of products offers assistance from CPAs or EAs. These tax professionals have certifications that prove their tax knowledge. This should make you feel comfortable that you’re getting the right answers when you ask detailed questions about your tax situation. You can share your screen with these professionals so they can guide you to solutions faster or see what may be causing problems with your return. 

Throughout the tax filing process via TurboTax, there’s an option to get support via a small blue button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. There’s a pop-up that reminds you that help is available, which is less annoying than your usual pop-up since let’s face it, filing taxes is hard. 

If you get stuck, you select the help option, then you are given the choice between searching the help center for the answer to your query, or setting up a call with a tax professional if your version includes this option. If you choose the call option, you’re matched with a tax professional and a timed callback window.

TurboTaxLive’s CPAs are prompt (during testing, a callback was received in less than 5 minutes), polite, and knowledgeable. Another bonus: While you receive a phone call, there’s a video chatting window that pops up. This means you can actually see who you’re chatting with. There’s a screen sharing option for those with more complicated tax questions, too.

While the wait time was minimal, it’s likely that the wait times increase as the tax deadline approaches. TurboTax offers Audit Defense, in case you’re audited. In collaboration with TaxResources, Inc., an agency of tax experts, you’ll be walked through the audit, and they even prepare documents and represent you in IRS meetings. It’s a paid add-on. 

Desktop Version/Mobile App

If you liked the desktop version of TurboTax, you’ll like the app even better. It uses the same card-based design, except you can tap and swipe instead of clicking. You can upload a picture of last year’s W-2 to get a headstart.

The app option allows you to scan your driver’s license to input your information which makes setup even faster. Other great aspects of the app version: extra security via passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID (on iOS), and live video chatting with a tax professional (if paid for) if you get stuck.

The TurboTax app is available for iOS or Android users. 

TurboTax vs. the Competition

TurboTax is one of several tax preparation software options. So how does it compare to the competition?

TurboTax vs. H&R Block

H&R Block, a main competitor of TurboTax, offers better pricing for their downloadable tax preparation software. Both the federal and state software is cheaper than TurboTax, but H&R Block doesn’t offer a free filing option. 

However, H&R Block doesn’t offer as robust support options as TurboTax. That’s likely because H&R Block offers in-person preparation for customers who prefer more help.

You can head to a local H&R Block office if you’re a brick-and-mortar kind of customer, but the pricing is different from their software. TurboTax has no in-person option, so H&R Block is a clear winner for those who’d rather have their taxes prepared face-to-face.  

TurboTax vs. e-File

E-File is another tax filing software, but it’s fairly simplistic. For example, federal filing is free for basic situations, but there is no live chat option. This could become an issue if you get stuck or have questions. 

Its prices are much lower than TurboTax’s and even beat H&R Block’s tax preparation software prices. e-File may be a better option if you know what you’re doing and want a cheap option. TurboTax wins this battle if you’re looking for polished software with detailed support.

TurboTax vs. TaxAct

TaxAct is probably the most similar to TurboTax. They both focus on tax preparation software without in-person preparation options. TaxAct even offers a free option, including free state tax preparation.

TaxAct is more sophisticated and provides more support than e-File, but it still doesn’t offer the level of polish or support that TurboTax offers with its priciest options. That said, TaxAct’s pricing reflects this with overall lower prices when compared to TurboTax.

TaxAct does provide phone-based support, but they don’t have an option for help or tax return review by a CPA or EA. Which software you select comes down to your priorities. If the price is most important, TaxAct wins. If you need assistance when completing your return, TurboTax’s support options provide a better experience.

Final Verdict
  • Filing your taxes with TurboTax feels more like a conversation with an understanding financial advisor. The blows of disclosing your income and digging through your home filing cabinet looking for misplaced W-2s are softened a bit by the software’s penchant for a great user experience and a bit of snarky humor.
  • TurboTax is great for the millennial crowd or anyone who enjoys a smooth user experience and immediate gratification. It provides quick support wait times and a running tally of your expected tax refund or tax owed amount, too.
  • TurboTax’s free version is the best and most cost-effective option for those with the simplest tax situations. But the more complicated your taxes become, the pricier the software gets and you might be better off with another option. 
  • If you choose TurboTax, make sure to pick the software package that best fits your budget and situation.

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. Money. "Doing Your Taxes Online? The Price Is About to Go Up." Accessed Nov. 23, 2020.