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eSmart Tax Review 2014 – Free Online Tax Filing

By Kira Botkin

esmarttaxThe eSmart Tax service, previously called CompleteTax, was purchased in early 2013 by Liberty Tax Service and subsequently renamed. However, despite the change in name, the eSmart Tax online tax filing software remains largely the same product, designed to help you file your taxes online for a low price. If your tax filing is relatively simple, eSmart Tax can help you file for free. However, more complicated tax situations cost more, and you may find that some of your forms aren’t supported.

eSmart Tax offers three versions at different price points that address situations from simple to moderately complex.

Available Packages

eSmart Tax allows you to start out with the free Basic version, and prompts you to upgrade when needed. Its website offers a guide to help you select a version depending on which features you need, such as small business support (which requires the Premium version); but unfortunately, the guide does not provide you with many scenarios to choose from.

However, if you cannot determine which version you need, you can simply start with the Basic version. If you don’t have any items that require an upgrade, you’ll be able to file your federal taxes for free.

  • Basic: Includes free live chat with customer service, free audit support from a Liberty Tax CPA if you are audited. It can also help you with your student loan interest deduction, but you cannot file any schedules. Furthermore, it cannot handle items such as charitable deductions or the mortgage interest deduction. It’s only appropriate for those with a very simple return. Price: Free. Filing state with a Basic federal package is an additional $14.95.
  • Deluxe: Includes phone support, as well as support for Schedule A, investment income, the mortgage interest deduction, investment gains and losses, and retirement income. If you need to file a Schedule C, you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium version. Price: $19.95. Filing one state with a Deluxe federal package is an additional $19.95.
  • Premium: Allows you to file a Schedule C, and also provides support for payments on your 2008 First-Time Homebuyer’s Credit, as well as support for income from estates and trusts. Price: $39.95.

esmart tax packages

Key Features

Nervous about doing your taxes? eSmart Tax comes with several features that guarantee you’ll receive the biggest refund with an accurately calculated return. The step-by-step interview makes the process simple, and you may be able to file your federal taxes for free.

  • Free CPA Audit Assistance. If you get audited by the IRS, you can receive free advice from eSmart Tax’s CPAs, including a review and explanation of your letter, what to expect during an audit, and assistance in drafting responses to letters.
  • Accuracy Guaranteed. If eSmart Tax makes a calculation error, it pays any penalties or interest that accrued as a result of the error (though not the extra taxes themselves).
  • Biggest Refund Guaranteed. If you get a bigger refund using a different tax program, eSmart Tax will refund you the fees you paid to use eSmart Tax.
  • Don’t Pay Until You File. Fees for using eSmart Tax aren’t due until you’re ready to file, so if you aren’t satisfied with the program, you don’t have to pay if you don’t file.
  • Chat, Tweet, Pin, Blog, or Like For Help. eSmart Tax offers help over live chat or email, and can also provide answers to customer questions through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
  • Help Available In Local Offices. Liberty Tax Service has more than 4,500 offices nationwide. If you need assistance, you can get help in person (though fees may apply).

esmart tax

Advantages

  1. Free Live Chat Help Available. If you have questions about a tax problem, you can access live tax help by online chat seven days a week during tax season (through April 20th).
  2. Low, Locked-In Prices. If you start your return with eSmart Tax but don’t finish right away and the prices later increase, you pay the price that was in effect when you started your return.
  3. Easily Accessible Help Files. You can always access the help files from the screen where you’re inputting information, though actually searching the help files may be difficult. On some screens, common questions related to the topic you’re on automatically appear to offer guidance.
  4. State Filing Fees Are Reasonable. Fees to file your state return are either $14.95 (for Basic users) or $19.95 (for Deluxe or Premium). Other programs charge as much as $36.95 to file your state return.

esmarttax

Disadvantages

  1. Support for More Complicated Situations Is Very Limited. While other tax products such as TurboTax and H&R Block offer support for amended returns, corporations, and other complicated situations (with a higher-level upgrade), eSmart Tax doesn’t offer any such online support – you need to go into a Liberty Tax office for anything the program doesn’t support.
  2. Audit Assistance Might Leave You Hanging. H&R Block and TurboTax both offer great audit assistance, including assistance with interpreting any letters you receive from the IRS, and the ability to hire an agent to meet with the IRS for you (for a fee). eSmart Tax only provides assistance if you’re actually audited, which is important since the vast majority of intimidating letters the IRS issues are not for audits.
  3. Interview Process Isn’t Intuitive. eSmart Tax says it has an interview-style process, where you’re asked one question at a time, but it doesn’t follow this process all the way through. For example, after entering personal information one step at a time, you’re then given a whole page of different income-related forms and asked to choose which ones you want to enter.
  4. Can’t Import W-2 Forms. When I tried out this program myself, it did not offer to attempt to import either of my W-2 forms. H&R Block, TurboTax, and TaxACT all have links with major payroll companies and offer import of your W-2 data from the companies they link with.
  5. Can’t Import Prior Year Tax Info From Other Programs. H&R Block At Home, TurboTax, and TaxACT can all import PDF copies of your tax forms created by other programs, but this is not an option with eSmart Tax. According to its website, eSmart Tax can load the previous year’s information if you used eSmart Tax, but it doesn’t mention support for any other tax form importing.
  6. Forms Are Confusingly Formatted. Some of the forms have misaligned items, which makes it difficult to determine which box requires information to be inputted. Some of the forms also contain confusing items in the drop-down menu (for instance, I live in Ohio, so why do I have Michigan and California options for my locality name when entering my W-2?), and each subsequent form loads very slowly. Furthermore, instead of asking you to fill in everything on your Form 1098 all at once, the program separates mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and mortgage insurance premiums into three different forms.
  7. Help Files Are Often Confusing. Some of the help files are clearly written, while others are merely copies of the IRS guidelines. For example, when I tried to enter my charitable donations, it asked me to classify the organization in the way the IRS does – by whether its public or private, and whether it has capital assets. I have no idea, and no other program I’ve tried asked me this question. The help files were of very little use to me, and the search function on the help files works poorly – if you don’t word your query exactly the way the file is titled, your search won’t have any returns.
  8. Error Checking Is Poorly Designed. After completing my federal and state returns, the program informed me that I had 10 errors that had to be fixed before I could file. These included errors such as having a period in my address. It’s quite perplexing why this error wasn’t alerted while I was on that screen typing it in. Plus, going back to fix an error leaves you at that point in the entry process, so you’ve got to jump to the end to find out what other errors you need to fix, and repeat the process several times.
  9. No Additional Tax Guidance, Even With More Expensive Packages. While H&R Block, TurboTax, and TaxACT pile on the deduction-finders and credit calculators with the pricier upgrades, the eSmart Tax upgrades just provide access to entering in different kinds of data. There isn’t any significant guidance provided by the program. For example, all of the previously mentioned tax programs have their own versions of a tool that helps you calculate the worth of your donations of clothes or household goods using the IRS tables – no such tool appears to be available from eSmart Tax, even in the Premium version.

esmarttax

Final Word

eSmart Tax appears to have lost many of the functions that were present in its predecessor CompleteTax, and while overall it is not a bad value for the money, the poor design of the help files and limited support may make this a difficult product to use. It does offer a better price on state filing than some other products such as H&R Block, but TaxACT still beats it on overall price, and supports more forms to boot. If you’re looking for a program that will let you file your taxes for free, there are several other options that can provide a more user-friendly and less frustrating experience.

Have you used eSmart Tax? What was your experience?

Kira Botkin
Kira is a longtime blogger and serial entrepreneur who enjoys gardening, garage sales, and finding stray animals. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where football is a distinct season, and by day runs a research study for people with multiple sclerosis. She hopes that the MoneyCrashers team can help you achieve your goals and live a great life.

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