Jackson Hewitt is a well-known tax preparation service that helps millions of Americans prepare and file their taxes each year. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a Jackson Hewitt storefront office in your town – there are several thousand outposts spread around the United States.
You’re probably less familiar with Jackson Hewitt Online, the company’s online tax prep and filing service. Jackson Hewitt Online offers tax preparation assistance for taxpayers in a wide range of circumstances, from simple situations that can be completed with Form 1040EZ or 1040A, to more complicated scenarios involving investments, business income, and itemized deductions.
With four tax preparation packages, Jackson Hewitt Online is moderately priced overall. Notably, it boasts a 100% free version that covers one federal and one state return. Higher-priced plans accommodate progressively more complex situations. Each plan’s capabilities resemble those of comparable to well-known competitors, including Turbo Tax, H&R Block, Liberty Tax Online, and TaxAct.
Like most online tax prep options, Jackson Hewitt Online extends an accuracy guarantee to all filers, including those on the free plan. If the IRS hits you with a tax penalty or interest charge attributable to a Jackson Hewitt software calculation error, you’re entitled to full reimbursement from Jackson Hewitt.
Plans, Pricing & Features
Jackson Hewitt Online lets you choose between interview-style and DIY preparation. If you’re unfamiliar with the tax preparation process or have a complicated situation that requires lots of forms and schedules, you can choose a guided interview that uses intuitive questions to guide you through the process. Alternatively, if you’re more comfortable with tax preparation or have a very simple situation, you can choose which forms to complete on your own.
Be warned, though: If you start doing something that your current package doesn’t support (for instance, entering information about stock sales in the Free Edition), you’ll automatically be bumped up into the appropriate plan without any notification. You can always tell which plan you’re currently working in by checking the top of your screen.
Guided View vs. Tax Form View
As you work through your return, you can switch from “guided view” (data entry based on step-by-step questions) to “tax form view” (DIY entry fields just as they appear on printed tax forms) at any time. This adds flexibility, particularly if you’re more comfortable with some aspects of a complicated return, and less so with others. You can also skip between sections at any point during the preparation process, including to sections that you haven’t yet completed.
Office Preparation vs. Online Preparation
Overall, Jackson Hewitt Online’s interface is super smooth and user-friendly. It’s also extremely mobile-friendly, with large text, big fields, and ample spacing between items. Despite a robust online system, Jackson Hewitt does routinely push online filers to bring their returns into a Jackson Hewitt office, especially as tax situations become more complex (for instance, an upgrade to the highest-paid plan is met with a recommendation to visit an office). While you can certainly consider filing in-person if your situation becomes too complex to do on your own, office preparation typically costs more than online preparation.
1. Free Edition
Jackson Hewitt Online’s Free Edition is one of the few free tax filing options that’s actually 100% free – federal and state returns cost nothing to prepare here. However, this version is only appropriate for the simplest of tax situations – those that can be completed with IRS Form 1040EZ or 1040A, and (even though supported by those forms) for filers who won’t claim the Earned Income Tax Credit . Filers who need to itemize their deductions or claim more than $1,500 in interest income also need to upgrade.
The Free Edition’s features and functions include:
- W-2 Importing. You can import your W-2 directly into Jackson Hewitt’s online filing system, rather than manually enter the data contained on it.
- Prior Year Return Importing. If you prepared last year’s tax return with Jackson Hewitt Online or at a Jackson Hewitt storefront, you can import it into your current year return. You can also import prior year returns from TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct.
- Email & Live Chat Support. Jackson Hewitt offers free live chat support during the company’s regular business hours (all times Eastern): 9am to 9pm, Monday through Friday; 10am to 7pm, Saturday; and 11am to 8pm, Sunday. The email support feature is available 24/7, though after-hours queries can take up to 24 hours to produce a response. Email and live chat support is suitable for technical issues with your return and basic tax questions. More complex questions are best directed toward a branch office.
2. Basic Edition
The Basic Edition costs $34.95 for your federal return and $36.95 for each state, though the federal portion is discounted to $19.95 for a limited time. Basic is suitable for people with only slightly complicated tax situations, including filers who need to account for student loan interest or claim the Earned Income Tax Credit without dependents.
The Basic Edition comes with all the features and functions found in the Free Edition, plus:
- Student Loan Interest Deduction. This edition allows you to deduct student loan interest from your taxable income, subject to the IRS’s $2,500 maximum benefit.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (No Dependents). If you have no dependents, this edition allows you to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and file Schedule EIC.
- $20 Walmart eGift Card With State Return. When you file your state return with Jackson Hewitt and enter ‘WALMART20’ in the payment screen’s promo code box, you get a $20 Walmart eGift Card that can be used to buy anything on Walmart’s website.
3. Deluxe Edition
The Deluxe Edition costs $54.95 for your federal return and $36.95 for each state, though the federal portion is discounted to $34.95 for a limited time. Deluxe caters to homeowners, investors, filers with dependents, and others with moderately complicated tax situations. It’s not appropriate for small business owners or people with substantial self-employment income.
The Deluxe Edition comes with all the bells and whistles of the lower-priced versions, plus:
- Itemized Deductions. This edition allows you to itemize your deductions using Schedule A.
- Investment & Interest Income. This edition allows you to claim capital gains and losses from the sale of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other securities. It also allows you to claim interest and ordinary dividend income greater than $1,500.
- Income from Real Estate Sales. If you sold your home during the tax year, this edition allows you to claim resultant capital gains or losses (if required).
4. Premium Edition
The Premium Edition costs $79.95 for your federal return and $36.95 for each state, though the federal portion is discounted to $54.95 for a limited time. Premium is intended for independent professionals, small business owners, and others with substantial self-employment income. Notably, it’s not marketed to people with unusual or highly complicated tax situations. If you’re in either of those boats, you may need to complete your taxes in person at a Jackson Hewitt outlet or use another online service.
The Premium Edition includes all the features and functions of the three lower-priced options, plus:
- Business Income & Deductions. This edition includes support for self-employed professionals and small business owners, including those who need to file Schedule C (profit or loss from a business) and Schedule K-1 (profit or loss from a partnership or S-corporation). It also includes support for business-related tax deductions and credits, including the home office deduction.
- Rental Property Income. The Premium Edition includes support for Schedule E filers – people who own and earn income from rental property.
- Farming Income. This edition includes support for Schedule F filers – farmers and people who earn income from farmland.
- Free Phone Support. The Premium Edition comes with free phone support during Jackson Hewitt’s regular business hours. This support covers technical and tax issues, though unusual or complicated questions are best handled through a branch office.
- Maximum Refund Guarantee. Jackson Hewitt Online, like most online tax prep providers, has a maximum refund guarantee. Filers who receive larger federal refunds (or smaller federal tax liabilities) from identical returns filed with competitors are entitled to full tax prep fee refunds.
- Help Database. Jackson Hewitt Online has a support database that covers most major topics related to tax preparation in general and Jackson Hewitt Online’s system in particular. The content is generated by Jackson Hewitt staff, not users (as is the case with some competitors). Most major topics are covered, though the treatment isn’t as exhaustive as some competitors’ help databases.
- Tax Calculators. Jackson Hewitt Online has several useful tax calculators, including a general calculator that helps you determine your overall tax liability, a calculator that helps determine whether you’re eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a calculator that helps determine whether you’re subject to self-employment tax.
1. Free Edition Is 100% Free
Jackson Hewitt Online is one of the few online tax prep programs that has a truly free version – its Free Edition is free for both state and federal tax returns. That’s a significant advantage over the misleadingly named FreeTaxUSA’s “free” version, which charges $12.95 per state return, and H&R Block’s free version, which costs $9.99 per state return.
2. Comes With Physical Branch Access
Jackson Hewitt Online is backed by more than 6,000 physical Jackson Hewitt branches across the United States. If your tax situation overwhelms you during the filing process, or you simply decide you don’t want to spend the time and energy necessary to complete your return on your own, you can always take your partially completed paperwork to your local Jackson Hewitt office. In fact, Jackson Hewitt Online regularly encourages filers to make this switch, and the process for doing so is pretty smooth – though filing in person typically involves higher fees.
3. Most State Filers Get a Walmart Gift Card
If you file a state return with any of Jackson Hewitt Online’s three higher-priced plans, you get a $20 Walmart gift card. Since you can buy pretty much anything at Walmart, that’s basically a $20 refund bonus. Few other competitors offer gift cards with either state or federal returns, and the practice is becoming rarer – for instance, TurboTax discontinued its refund-bonus gift cards for the 2015 tax year.
4. Most Site Features Are Mobile-Friendly
By and large, Jackson Hewitt Online has a mobile-friendly website and preparation system. The one blemish on this record is the help database, which is more uneven – some sections are crisp and new, while others appear not to have been updated for several years, and retain an old-school layout that’s not conducive to mobile viewing. Some competing services, including FreeTaxUSA, are far less mobile-friendly overall.
5. Can Move Between Sections at Will
Jackson Hewitt Online allows you to go back and forth at will between sections of your tax return. This is a big advantage if you have a complex tax situation, as it makes it easier to prepare your return in sections as new information (for instance, 1099 forms from contract employers) become available. By contrast, H&R Block has a more rigid preparation system that doesn’t allow you to skip ahead before completing the section you’re currently working on.
6. Choice Between DIY and Guided Interview
Jackson Hewitt Online lets you choose between DIY and interview-style preparation throughout most of the preparation process, dramatically increasing flexibility. It’s almost effortless to switch back and forth from DIY to interview format, so you’re free to take the lead on sections that you’re comfortable with and accept Jackson Hewitt’s guidance on sections that you’re unsure about. Overall, the hybrid DIY-interview approach reduces time investment, curtails tediousness, and boosts confidence all at once. It definitely compares favorably to TurboTax, whose more rigid and thorough interview process can be tedious for experienced filers.
1. Lower-Priced Plans Have Limited Capabilities
Jackson Hewitt Online clusters its capabilities in the two higher-priced plans, Deluxe and Premium. If you need to itemize your deductions, report investment income, or address any issues related to self-employment or business ownership, you need to upgrade to one of these plans.
By the same token, only the simplest tax situations are appropriate for Jackson Hewitt Online’s Free Edition – you can’t even claim the Earned Income Tax Credit on the Free Edition, for example. Frustratingly, you can’t even claim the Earned Income Tax Credit in the Basic Edition if you have dependents – you need to upgrade to Deluxe to do that.
If you have dependents and want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, but don’t want to pay through the nose to do it, consider a lower-cost service like FreeTaxUSA (whose lowest-priced version includes most major forms and schedules) or TaxSlayer (whose second-cheapest plan includes most major forms and schedules). These services offer better value for more complicated tax situations as well.
2. Onsite Help Database Is Sub-par
Jackson Hewitt Online’s onsite support database has a lot of useful information about general tax issues and Jackson Hewitt’s online tax prep system, but it’s also missing some essential elements.
For starters, it lacks the user-generated content found in some competing online tax prep services’ help portals, such as TurboTax’s AnswerXchange. User-generated content, such as submitted questions about complicated or unusual issues, can be useful for addressing matters that don’t always get full attention from staff-generated help topics.
It also, at least in parts, lacks the mobile-friendly navigation and layout of the rest of Jackson Hewitt Online. It’s jarring to move through a help section and see multiple page layouts, some of which look like the remainder of the website, and others of which look like they belong to an entirely different (and much older) domain.
What’s more, Jackson Hewitt Online’s help database isn’t as comprehensive as the database of some other services, including TurboTax and H&R Block. The system does an excellent job of explaining the topics that it does cover, but uncommon issues are often absent.
3. Not Ideal for Very Complex Situations That Require Support
Jackson Hewitt Online’s Premium plan offers access to most major forms and schedules, but it doesn’t provide lots of guidance (either in the tax prep interface itself or, as noted, in the help database) for unusual or uncommon issues. If you’re not comfortable preparing a complicated tax return from start to finish with minimal guidance, think twice about using Jackson Hewitt Online, even in guided interview mode. Instead, take Jackson Hewitt up on its offer and bring your return into a storefront location.
4. Can Be Bumped Into Costlier Plans Without Warning
As you work through your Jackson Hewitt Online return, you may find yourself bumped up into a higher-priced plan without realizing it. This is particularly likely to happen when you attempt to fill out an unsupported form in DIY mode. It’s frustrating the Jackson Hewitt Online doesn’t reliably deliver upgrade prompts, as most of its competitors do. If you’re not paying attention to your current plan, you can easily make it all the way to filing without noticing the price jump.
5. State Returns Are Pricey
Aside from the Free Edition’s state return, which costs nothing, Jackson Hewitt Online’s state returns are pricey: $36.95, regardless of plan. That’s more expensive than TaxAct, whose state returns top out at $19.99 each, and FreeTaxUSA, whose state returns cost $12.95 apiece.
6. Thin Customer Support Options
Despite (or perhaps because of) Jackson Hewitt’s strong branch infrastructure, Jackson Hewitt Online has a pretty thin customer support apparatus. The live chat feature is only active about 12 hours each weekday, and less than that on weekends, while phone support is only available to customers who pay for a Premium plan. If you’re filing your taxes after hours and/or don’t need to upgrade to Premium, you may have to resort to email – which can take a business day to produce a response – to get your questions answered.
Cost-wise, Jackson Hewitt Online occupies a middle ground between budget-friendly, bare-bones online tax prep services like FreeTaxUSA and more expensive, full-service options like TurboTax. However, it has another big advantage that the majority of its online competitors can’t claim: a coast-to-coast network of more than 6,000 storefront tax preparation offices.
As Jackson Hewitt Online itself never fails to mention, these tax prep offices are always there if you become overwhelmed by your return, or decide you no longer have the time or energy to devote to DIY preparation. You’ll pay more for in-person preparation, of course – but that expense could well be worth the added peace of mind.
For more options, check out our full list of Top-Rated Free Online Tax Preparation Services.