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What’s the Best Online Tax Preparation Software? TaxACT vs TurboTax vs H&R Block

By Kira Botkin

taxes-online-computerAround February 1st, advertisements for tax preparation services start flooding TVs, radios, and newspapers. Every company wants you to know how great its services are, and that it can get you a bigger refund and will make tax filing easier for you. Essentially, tax preparation companies tell you anything they think will appeal to you and get you to use their service.

However, not all tax services are created equal. Many have significant benefits and drawbacks when compared to other services and for different tax situations. What follows is a comparison of three of the largest tax prep services: H&R Block, TurboTax, and TaxACT.

To get a sense of how they stack up, I used each service for my taxes, which included the following forms and deductions:

  • Two W-2 forms (one for me and one for my husband)
  • One 1099-MISC form (for a small business)
  • One 1098 form (mortgage interest statement)
  • Charitable deduction
  • One 1098-E form (student loan interest)

H&R Block

h&r blockFree Edition: $0. Basic: $19.99. Deluxe: $29.99. Premium: $49.99. Each state return is $36.99, even with the free edition.

  • Time spent preparing: 31 minutes
  • Federal refund result: $4,348
  • State refund result: $122

I’ve used H&R Block several times to do my taxes, so it’s not surprising that this was the least time-consuming program for me to use. The first thing the software asks is which tax program you used last year so it can import the information – H&R Block can import from TurboTax or TaxACT if you used either program previously.

The next screen asks what life changes you had during the past year – examples include getting a new job, having a baby, getting married, buying a house, and several others. I got married and so the service provides a page of advice about how getting married can change my taxes, and a brief explanation of how my filing status has changed as a result. Then it asks which filing status you want to use – married filing jointly or separately. However, it doesn’t provide guidance on how to choose one.

Federal Tax Filing

The first data entry section, Income, begins with a list of forms to gather, such as W-2 forms and a variety of 1099 forms. It asks whether you have each form, and if you answer “yes,” you are taken straight to a page to input data. Help files specific to the form you’re working on are available on the right side of the screen, and a search bar is located at the top. Also, there are several links throughout each form that provide additional information and details.

When I was prompted to input information for my 1099-MISC form, I was asked to upgrade, as the free version does not support Schedule C for small business owners. If you’re a small business owner, you must upgrade to at least the Basic version to file Schedule C.

While entering small business information, the program asks if you have “business expenses”; however, it provides no guidance. To gain access to the step-by-step categorization program, which provides guidance to ensure that you properly input all of your business expenses, you need to upgrade to the Deluxe edition. In the Basic version, it just asks you to fill in the amounts for each of the categories found on the Schedule C itself, worded exactly as the Schedule C – which isn’t always clear.

The language is very formal on some data entry screens in the program, but it isn’t difficult to determine what needs to be done. Upon completion of the federal return, the program runs its Accuracy Review to ensure that no major errors can be found.

State Tax Filing

The state return is simple to complete – the program imports all the data from the federal return and determines which state you should file for, though it offers the option upfront to file for another state as well. You are then asked a number of questions specific to the state in which you are filing, and again it performs the Accuracy Review.

Upon completion of the Accuracy Review for my state tax filing, I was told, “You have federal C, E, and F. Please review to see if you can deduct small business investor income deduction on your Ohio return.” In truth, I only filed a federal Schedule C, and I feel that the program should recognize this. The service seems incomplete due to the fact that it isn’t personalized to my situation – and it doesn’t offer any assistance on how to go about following its instructions.

At the end, you are asked if you would like a tax professional to go over your return (the “Best of Both” service) for an additional $60.

h&r block at home

Pros

  1. Organized and Clear. The step-by-step method, preparatory checklists, and clear instructions make the tax filing process relatively straightforward and easy to understand.
  2. Basic Version Covers a Lot. Unlike TurboTax, you can complete a Schedule C and enter mortgage deductions or dividends with the Basic version (if you are willing to forgo the extra help provided by the Deluxe edition). The Basic version should be fine for most filers.
  3. Professional Help Available. One of the big advantages H&R Block has over TurboTax and TaxACT is its network of seasoned tax pros and physical locations. If you decide you aren’t comfortable doing your taxes yourself, you can use the Best of Both service – or, visit an office for help.

Cons

  1. Help Files Are Overly Complicated. If you’re a first-time filer or have simple taxes, you might desire simple, concise answers to your questions, rather than the full page of information the H&R Block help file often provides.
  2. Can’t View Draft Files. H&R Block doesn’t let you view a draft copy of your actual tax forms until after you’ve paid – so it can be difficult to determine which form your information is being shunted into, especially if you’re trying to follow IRS instructions.

Verdict

  • Thoroughness: 7 of 10. H&R Block isn’t as thorough as TaxACT, but more so than TurboTax. It covers most of the more common deductions and forms on the first round, which reduces the need to hunt for forms in the program.
  • Experience: 8 of 10. It could be organized a little better, but it is free of pop-ups, auto-play videos, or anything else that would make it a nerve-wracking experience. You may need to scroll through numerous screens that don’t apply to you, but overall it goes by pretty quickly.
  • User-Friendliness: 7 of 10. Some of the wording isn’t very clear, and it could offer a little more guidance. And while there are many help files available, they aren’t always very easy to understand. Of course, you can use the Best of Both service and have a live tax pro look over your return. It is somewhat costly, but it’s still cheaper than actually visiting a tax preparer.

H&R Block is a solid choice for small business owners. It offers a lower price than TurboTax (which requires small business owners to upgrade to the Home & Business version), but more support than TaxACT (which supports Schedule C at a lower price, but offers much less help). It’s not as user-friendly as TurboTax, but is more thorough in the questions it asks. Overall, H&R Block is a good choice for those who are comfortable doing their taxes and don’t need too much hand-holding, but do not regard themselves as tax pros ready to complete the forms with little to no assistance.

See our H&R Block Review for more information.

TurboTax

turbotaxFree Edition: $0. Basic: $19.99. Military: Free or $24.99, depending on rank. Deluxe: $29.99. Premier: $49.99. Home & Business: $74.99. State filing is $36.99 per state, with every edition except Military (free for ranks E1-E5).

  • Time spent preparing: 38 minutes
  • Federal refund: $4,348
  • State refund: $122

TurboTax has a simple, clean design. You can import last year’s data from tax forms created by H&R Block or TaxACT. It features a step-by-step interview process that often only asks you to fill in one piece of data per page, and there’s hardly ever a need to scroll down.

Instead of asking you to choose a status, TurboTax tells you which status it thinks is best. This is a nice feature, as choosing a filing status can be confusing.

Federal Tax Filing

This section is split into multiple chapters: Wages & Income, Deductions & Credits, Other Tax Situations, Federal Review, and Error Check.

For each of the first three sections, you have two options for entering data: a guided walk-through or a choose-your-own-adventure where you can select what you’d like to enter. In the latter, you can choose to start with any item on the list, or you can choose a section and visit all of the subsections it contains. For example, under the Wages & Income section, you can select from subsections including Wages and Salaries, Unemployment, Interest and Dividends, and more.

Using the guided route is a little easier (though it can take longer if you already know exactly what you need to enter and where to enter it) – it goes through the more common items first, such as W-2s, and then prompts you to choose from the same pick-your-own list of forms if you have anything else to enter. However, if you have an uncommon item, you may not be prompted to enter it and may need to look for the needed form in a big list, or use the search bar to find it.

To file a Schedule C-EZ form, you must upgrade to the Basic version – the business expense entry is very quick, but not detailed. Unfortunately, the full Schedule C is available only after upgrading to the Home & Business version.

While filing, TurboTax informed me that I had entered three of nine income sections, but I did not need to go through all nine to move on. This feature makes it much quicker for people who have fairly normal tax situations.

After inputting your income, TurboTax walks you through a short interview, which asks whether you have experienced any common occurrences that might affect your taxes, such as having a child or buying a car. It provides quick advice about how these events can affect taxes, but doesn’t get into much detail. Getting through the credits and deductions section is also quick and easy.

State Tax Filing

TurboTax transfers data from the federal return to the state tax filing section. It’s likely that you will not need to input anything for this section.

I found that when completing the state return, TurboTax asked many questions that didn’t really apply to me, which I found to be odd considering how few inapplicable questions I was asked while completing the federal return. However, while using TurboTax took me longer than H&R Block, I felt a little less exhausted by the process.

turbotax

Pros

  1. Help Files Are Easy to Understand. Most of TurboTax’s help files answer your question in a few sentences, rather than providing lengthy, full-page walls of text.
  2. Simple Taxes Are Quick. If you have an uncomplicated tax situation, TurboTax will likely be a quicker option than either H&R Block or TaxACT. TurboTax has fewer extraneous screens than the other systems and focuses on the most common situations.
  3. Clean, Simple Design. TurboTax’s spare blue and white design is easy on the eyes, and the fact that it asks only one or two questions at a time on most screens helps you feel more confident in your ability to file taxes yourself.

Cons

  1. Uncommon Situations Require More Hunting. TurboTax doesn’t do as well if you have a more complicated tax situation. If you have to file an unusual form, such as a W2-G (gambling income) form, you might have to do a bit of searching to find where to input your data.
  2. Pricey Upgrade Required for Schedule C Users. I’m not a fan of TurboTax’s setup, which requires you to upgrade all the way to Home & Business to get support for the full Schedule C. It does come with many other features, but there should be an option to be able to use it at a lower price point minus the other features.

Verdict

  • Thoroughness: 6 of 10. TurboTax is reasonably thorough and should be enough for most people. However, if you have more complicated taxes and aren’t very confident in your abilities to file – or do not know exactly which forms you need – you may want to avoid this program.
  • Experience: 8 of 10. Using TurboTax is very calming due to the pleasant layout – the color scheme and the fonts are easy on the eyes. However, the pop-ups can be annoying.
  • User-Friendliness: 10 of 10. This is great software for novices with a simple tax situation. It gets you through the process with a minimum of fuss.

I like TurboTax a lot. If my taxes were simple and I had a nail-biting fear of financial documents, I would absolutely use it. But, as someone who has a more complicated tax situation, it’s actually more difficult for me to use since I needed to search for the appropriate forms and the information to properly complete them.

See our TurboTax Review for more information.

TaxACT

taxactFree Federal Version: $0. Deluxe Federal Version: $12.99. Free Federal Version Plus State Version: $14.99. Deluxe Plus State: $17.99.

  • Time spent preparing: 54 minutes
  • Federal refund: $4,347
  • State refund: $123

Getting Started

The design of TaxACT is busy, but it’s easy to find what you’re looking for – tabs located at the top of the page show which section you’re on, while help files and a search bar are located to the right. You can import the previous year’s data from H&R Block or TurboTax if you saved PDF copies. The free version of TaxACT provides little guidance, but if you upgrade to the Deluxe version, the TaxTutor system – which is basically an expanded help system – can provide explanations of forms and detailed answers to common tax questions. TaxACT provides a good amount of information, even in the Free version, including details about the new tax law changes related to health insurance.

The program attempts to provide more guidance in its “Life Events” system, where you can select different major life changes from the past year. Free edition users can select one life change, but Deluxe users can make an unlimited number of selections. After selecting a life change, TaxACT provides you with several pages of information explaining how that life change affects your taxes. While it’s a nice concept, it would be more convenient as a downloadable packet.

Federal Tax Filing

TaxACT offers you the option to input information yourself, or to utilize step-by-step guidance. If you’ve already been through the guided path and are looking for something specific, the list of topics is actually quite useful – you can jump directly to any form or section, whether or not you’ve already completed it. During a first run-through, however, it could look a little overwhelming. With the step-by-step guidance, you go through every kind of income, deduction, or credit that the system thinks could apply to you.

TaxACT has some nice features that are intended to help you navigate, such as the Bookmark feature, which allows you to return to any specific page. This can be very helpful for people who don’t have all their forms yet. However, in general, it seems that TaxACT contains an unnecessary amount of pages during the federal tax filing input stage. It’s similar to TurboTax’s one-question-at-a-time method, but feels like it takes longer, and the questions and explanations aren’t always very clear.

TaxACT does offer the option to look at a view-only, non-printable version of the 1040, which is a nice feature that the other programs don’t offer until after you’ve filed and paid.

State Tax Filing

TaxACT imports all of your information from your federal taxes, so you don’t need to reenter any. However, when I used the program, it asked for my local school district number (I reside in Ohio and some school districts levy a local school district tax). Both TurboTax and H&R Block offer assistance in locating this information, but TaxACT just provides a list of all the school districts in the entire state. Plus, the help file I viewed was merely a copy of the Ohio tax department’s manual (as opposed to clear instruction), and the school district form was confusing and offered no additional guidance.

The state tax filing section has an “Alerts Review,” where TaxACT reviews your return for missing or incorrect information, as well as potential tax savings. Before you can see any refund options, you must click through more than a dozen pages of worksheets, comparisons, and other tools and upgrade offers.

taxact

Pros

  1. You Can’t Beat the Price. TaxACT’s free version covers every form in its database except the 1040X (the amended tax return). Schedule C is included in the free version, which is a nice change from H&R Block and TurboTax. If you do upgrade, it’s only $12.99, or $17.99 for the upgraded federal edition plus state, which is hands down the cheapest of any federal plus state combination software available.
  2. Lots of Forms Included. Every form I’ve ever heard of is included in the Free version. You don’t have to upgrade repeatedly to access various forms. Rather, what you get with the upgrade is access to more tax tools and a better help system.

Cons

  1. Help Files Are Not Very Helpful. Many of the help files are confusing. Also, many help files simply redirect you to the IRS site, or are copies of IRS or state tax documentation. TaxACT does offer email support (and phone support for Deluxe version users), but no live chat.
  2. Process Isn’t Personalized. TurboTax and H&R Block both have a better interview process, wherein the program determines which forms you need and which questions you should be asked. TaxACT is less intuitive, and asks many more questions, regardless of whether or not they apply to you and your unique tax situation. This can take a long time to finish.

Verdict

  • Thoroughness: 10 of 10. This program is perhaps too thorough. During the interview process, it asks all the questions that apply to your tax situation, and many more that do not.
  • Experience: 2 of 10. TaxACT offers lots of advice, but it isn’t customized to your situation. The descriptions and instructions it provides are often not useful, or worse, just confusing.
  • User-Friendliness: 1 of 10. If I didn’t know what I was doing, I probably would have quit using TaxACT after about five screens. There is no way to simplify the process if you have a basic tax situation – somebody filing who has only a W-2 and a couple of dependents would likely need as much time to file as someone who owns a small business. There are a many extraneous screens that could be eliminated if the program completed a short, up-front interview.

TaxACT is the cheapest of the three products, but, unfortunately, you get what you pay for. It requires the greatest amount of time to file, and causes the most episodes of despondency. You can’t go back and forth between the step-by-step guidance and choosing which tax forms you need to enter, and this is where H&R Block outperforms TaxACT, as well as TurboTax, by offering the option to navigate between these two.

But it is cheap – much cheaper than the other products, and it doesn’t make you upgrade in order to be able to use certain forms.

See our TaxACT Review for more information.

Final Word

Each of these three tax preparation products seem to work best for three very different groups of people. TurboTax is great if you have a simple tax situation and just want to get it done with a minimum of stress. H&R Block works best if you have a somewhat more complicated situation and pretty much know what you’re doing, but would still like some assistance along the way. And TaxACT works if you are very confident in your abilities to do your own taxes with minimum guidance (and don’t mind clicking a lot), or if you really don’t want to pay any more than is absolutely necessary.

Personally, I use H&R Block – my actual tax situation is more complicated than the scenario I used for this review, and I like having access to detailed help files and live chat. Plus, I don’t want to have to buy the TurboTax Home & Business version just to file my Schedule C.

Which tax preparation software do you prefer? Have you used any other software not listed here?

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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  • http://www.twitter.com/#!/phillyfunmoney Ninjasha

    This was a really great post! I’ve been using TaxAct to file my own taxes for about the last three years and in the last two years I’ve taken advantage of an early signing offer of $13.95 for state and federal deluxe fr returning users which doesn’t require payment until the actual filing date. It’s been pretty good for me even though I have encountered some confusing moments where I just didn’t know how to handle something, but the Deluxe includes phone support and they have been pretty helpful whenever I’ve had to call. Thank you for taking the time to confirm my few frustrations with TaxAct and confirming that it’s probably one of the best deals available these days. Found you your article on twitter and already re-tweeted it!
    Keep it up!
    - @PhillyFunMoney

  • http://wisefinish.com Wise Finish

    Great review. I just did a review of TurboTax on my site… I was fairly happy with it this year.

    I am curious to know more about the $21 that TurboTax shorted you – what was that from? How do you know it was wrong?

    • Kira Botkin

      I haven’t got the foggiest idea where it was from, but I know it was wrong because I actually filed my state taxes with Ohio’s own e-filing system and it too said my refund was $24. So unless I want to pay for TurboTax and get the actual forms, I can’t really tell where it went wrong.

  • http://www.howisavemoney.net Lulu

    I used H&R block this year because I thought it was easier to get through than the other systems. I logged in to TurboTax and did it for fun but I really prefer H&R block in the end. I agree with you on some of the deduction areas being confusing but in the end it worked out and it only took me a few minutes to get through the program.

  • http://silverdollarcoinvalue.com NJSM

    I have been using TaxACT for the last couple years now and before that, I was using TurboTax (the Home and Business version for $74.95). I now prefer TaxACT because its cheaper and very thorough. I think all of the software programs are going to have some level of confusion but overall, TaxACT works just fine for me and I pay less using it.

  • Larry

    I have been using TaxAct since every year since 2001. It is extremely thorough, takes a little more time but ultimately gives me more confidence of the Highest Return.

  • Karmella

    Thank you, excellent review – I will pass it on to some friends. I always use Turbo Tax – mainly because it’s easy and all of my info is saved from prior years. I know, that’s kind of lazy. I always buy the CD (Deluxe version, got it on Amazon again for $44, no tax) – I don’t like the online service, just don’t trust it with that much info.

  • Charles

    I have used TurboTax for about twelve years, and as the complexity of my financial position has increased, the application has the power to handle things like income from limited partnerships, commodity trades, straddles, and losses carried forward. One of the finest points from a convenience standpoint is the ability to import names, addresses, and carry forwards from the pervious year’s return. That’s a lot of typing and time saved. It remembers accounts at financial institutions, employers, owned businesses, and then asks if I have entries for them.

    The article is excellent, but it does not touch on the time saving conveniences, which I share here. Perhaps, the others do this as well, but I really like having the application enter any carry forwards reported on the previous return. I have confidence in those numbers coming from a previous filing because IRS computers know to expect these values, and it is less likely to trigger an audit.

    Over the years, since I first used TurboTax, I have always prepared my own returns. In two separate years that involved extremely complex transactions, I prepared the returns as usual, and then had a CPA examine the returns. On both occasions, they advised me not to have them prepare the returns because they could not improve on them. It cost me a couple hundred each time, but it gave me the confidence that if I had all the information correctly entered, an audit would be unlikely.

    Others may have more exotic incomes, such as foreign assets not traded publicly, rental property, vacation homes, or transactions that are more complex than mine. In that case, one’s comfort level may justify having a CPA prepare the return.

    • Daniel W Oliver

      Tax Act for 2011 is the worst user unfrendily program yet. I AM A SIX YEAR USER of Tax Act! TOO MANY ERROR REPORTS and flags. NO 1-800 SUPPORT NUMBER. Hung up on Roth IRA completion on a distribution. Flagged and would not help find easy solution. Finished on Turbo Tax in a just a few minuets with the help in the program without any hassel and good explanation of what to do. No comparison hear ! Played with Tax Act For hours but could not complete!!! Don’t waste time and money on Tact Act

  • kilkenny

    I have used both programs turbo tax and tax cut(H& R Block) Started out with turbo tax liked it but got tired of paying 17 dollars twice to file electronically, fed and state so switched to tax cut one year when they were were offering free electronic for both state and federal and have been using it since but last 2 years it did not include my federal refund on my state returns. How do I know? Tthis year i got hit with a taxes due from my state for both 2008 and 2009. When I called them about it there response was I should have noticed it did not include the federal refund on the state return and filled it in myself there is nothing they would could do about it. I am going to use turbo tax this year 2010 return.

  • LDK

    I have used TurboTax for multiple years. We have a complicated return, about 50 pages, with multiple small businesses, brokerage accounts, etc. Previously, about $1,200 for professional tax preparation. One huge advantage of TurboTax is the ability to import Schedule D information direct from brokerage account files. Some brokers will work with any tax preparation software but a couple will work only with TurboTax. That saves lots of time inputting data. I also like the previous year import, and correlation with Quicken which I use for daily transactions.

  • http://www.turbotax.com Bob Meighan

    Kira… Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the three different tax packages. Although we can’t review your TurboTax data file, I suspect your state tax may be different because of the local tax in your jurisdiction of OH. I can’t be certain, but that is where I’d start.

    There are differences in functionality and features between the TurboTax products. While all the products from Basic to Home & Business support the same tax situations and calculations, the primary differences are in the degree to which the higher priced products provide much more in depth help and guidance in the more complex areas like stock options, depreciation, office in home, etc. This additional level of help/guidance is what gives taxpayers the confidence they’ve done it right and captured all the deductions to which they are entitled.

    As your comment about the 1099-MISC statement, i would strongly argue that the way TurboTax accounts for that occasional income is superior to the competition. It sounds like you were forced to complete another Schedule C just for this one item with the other products when you probably really did not need to do so. TurboTax asked a few more relevant questions that ultimately would have saved you a lot of time while still ensuring you paid the least amount of tax.

    And as for price, TurboTax includes benefits that others like TaxAct charge extra for– like archiving of your return. We create an archive for you that allows you to go back several years if necessary to view or access your return.

    Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

    Bob Meighan
    VP, TurboTax

  • Ryan

    Great post! I’ve used TaxAct for a few years now because it’s cheap and works well for me. I was glad to see your opinion of the three with such detailed explanations of your trial process. Thank you for sharing!

  • Charlene

    I am married to a guy who is highly educated and great at numbers and systematic with paperwork. We get an upgraded Turbo Tax from Costco with a coupon for about $15, that comes with some free filing and a charge for state filing. Turbo Tax offers protection from audit for a fee. We pay that too. Since we have been doing this for many years we are comfortable and pleased with Turbo Tax. Our return is quite complicated with stocks and stock options, and would cost a lot to be done by a professional, so it seems a good deal to us. It is time consuming, but it is the price to pay for saving money.

    Thank you for this wonderful post! It is good to read a comparison such as this.

  • http://twitter.com/brian_nicholson Brian

    Thanks for this review, Kira. I was a TurboTax user in the past, used a CPA last year, and found myself looking for a bargain this year. Thanks largely in part to this review, I used TaxAct.

    I agree with you that it’s not quite as clear as it could be in some spots. For example, while collecting information for my Indiana state return, it presented me with two screens about Add Backs–a term with which I was unfamiliar. I had to leave TaxAct and search elsewhere to determine that Add Backs are actually quite rare. Why couldn’t TaxAct have mentioned that? TurboTax probably would have.

    Ultimately it was probably still easier than preparing my taxes without a service like this, and I only paid $17.95–no coupon needed. I plan to use TaxAct again next year.

  • larry

    I always did the taxes myself in other years, but this year I first went to Turbotax and after I got done what I thought was free there was a charge of almost 100 dollars so you have to be alert when using Turbo, they seems to have a bait and switch thingy going on, So when I saw the high fees I went over and tried Taxact and walla they got me a bigger refund and filed my federal with direct deposit for free and my state with direct deposit for a small fee. I seem to notice Bob from turbotax is on many of the sites that review online services trumping up his product.

  • http://www.turbotax.com Bob Meighan

    Larry… THere is no bait and switch. It does, however, require that you select the free product when you begin. So based on the fee you say, it sounds like you may have inadvertently selected TurboTax Deluxe and State. I also tend to believe the difference in tax between TaxAct and TurboTax was due to differences in data entered. By the way, TurboTax does not charge for direct deposit and never has.

    Thanks for your feedback.
    Bob Meighan
    VP, TurboTax

    • Wibblewobble

      It’s funny you say that since i’ve used Turbo Tax for the last two years both times starting with the Free Edition. After upgrading to include State my final price jumped $50 during the second year. I had the program automatically pull my info and had no new deductions. So, any guesses at the difference in pricing?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/TDV4TWP4A7UMGLZZDSTEBRMWTQ DeeR

      YES YOU DO !

      • LV

        I’ve never been charged for direct deposit to a BANK account, used TurboTax for 12 years. (I may switch for other reasons, but direct deposit has been easy.) Direct deposit other than to a bank acount might charge, tho.

    • Sunnyshine

      I don’t think he was saying that Turbo Tax charges for direct deposit. He said he was able to file the federal for FREE and get direct deposit and his state cost a small fee, but he also got direct deposit. I think you read it wrong.

      I’ve been using TaxAct for several years and will never use any other tax software

  • http://www.maxcashtitleloans.com/ Max

    I used H&R block and was very satisfied. They found forms for me that I would have never found myself, such as the 1 time government assistance for going to collage. They ended up saving me a bundle and I will use them again!

    • Fldanekeys

      You might need the assistance if that’s how your spelling COLLEGE…..J/K.

      • : )

        Uhm, Fldanekeys…. you should have used YOU’RE instead of YOUR.

        • KING

          Lol… Pot can’t talk about the kettle when they’re both metal

  • Anonymous

    Kira, you sound like me. I do my taxes with multiple softwares every year and file with the one that gives me the biggest return obviously. I noticed that you state refund varied considerably (considering that it went from $3 to $25). I also noticed that it was TurboTax who gave you the lowest state refund. You didn’t touch on this point I’m very curious to hear what your opinion on this. Considering that TurboTax touts itself to be the most accurate and even offer refunds to anyone that gets better results with another software, again, I’m very interested to hear what you think.

    Great review, very helpful. Thanks!

  • Guest

    I use Taxact and I know absolutely nothing about taxes. I have a moderately simple return, college tuition payments, child deductions, mortgage interest, and an employer funded relocation. I feel the deluxe version is tailored toward people like myself. I don’t know what I can deduct and what I’m entitled to, so the deluxe version asks you a bunch of questions about what happened last year, with the hopes of finding some deductions. If you know your stuff like Kira, the free version works just fine.

  • Edanddebra

    I’ve used H&R Block and its previous iteration, TaxCut. It’s easy enought to use and cheaper than TurboTax. But given your review of TaxACT, I may have to take a look at it. Thank you for the thorough reviews.

  • Mandmd2

    Mark D – Ex Turbo Taxer

    Kira, thank you for the fine comparison and for taking the time to share it.

    I’d already decided to drop Turbo Tax this year. After over a decade of exclusive Turbo Tax filings they have finally shaken me out of their their tree… just too expensive for a lot of fluff features I don’t really need. I hope Bob is reading this because apparently he doesn’t realize there is a depression/recession going on and $50 + extra misc costs is just too much to pay for tax software when there are so many oprions to choose from. I guess he’ll have to start charging $51-91 to make up for my lost sale.

    Even $45 is a bit steep in my opinion for a Deluxe version of a tax program but I was considering HR Block as an alternative this year. Now that I’ve read you article I think I may try TaxCut. I can put up with a little more frustration and work to save $$ big time… (I’ll probably need it for the taxes I owe :)

  • Katrina Mendoza

    Kira, I often browse through articles online about 80% of my random thoughts, and because it’s tax prep season i searched for an article such as this one… And I rarely post comments but you deserve recognition for taking the time to put this together. Thank you! It was extremely helpful.

    I filed my taxes last year using the TaxAct 2010 software and using it again last year. I was curious about the comparison between all three leading tax prep softwares and your review was very detailed.

    - Katrina Mendoza, California

    • Katrina Mendoza

      *What I mean was that I will use it again this year* – brainfreezed a bit. :)

  • Craig

    Your article was very helpful to compare “free” online tax prep software. Thanks for taking the time to put this thorough review together. I have been using TaxAct the past few years because it’s completely free. I found it using the link on the irs.gov web site. I am self employed, so I need to file Sched. C or C-EZ plus Schedule SE. One suggestion I could make for you would be to post the true cost of each software conspicuously at the beginning of each software section. I had to dig deep into Turbo Tax and H&R Block to discover that I’d have to pay for an upgrade to do my somewhat more complicated tax return. However as you do say, TaxAct is completely free for returns needing Schedules C and SE. TaxAct also covers Health Savings Accounts, which I use – don’t know if TT and H&R include those forms in their free versions. Maybe TaxAct is tedious, but I do think it’s very thorough, which is not a bad thing when it comes to filing your taxes! I have done my taxes by hand for years, so I’m familiar with the forms and I stay up to date. I combed through my TaxAct return and didn’t find anything they missed or any errors. If there’s better free software than TaxAct out there, I’d like to hear about it.

  • Steve

    Kira, thanks for the efforts in comparing tax software. I think you brought out some good points. I have done my own taxes for a long time and even used to do it by hand (ugggh!). I have been a Turbotax user for a long time. In addition to the usual mortgage and donation deductions I also have stock sales to deal with. Last year I decided to try the free version. They don’t tell you ahead of time that you can’t do multiple returns under the same name. I do my daughters taxes each year so I ended up complaining to Intuit (Turbotax) and they gave me the software as a download. It was very troublesome and irritating. I am very wary of using any “free” software now. I definitly won’t use Turbotax’s free software. Also Turbotax charges you when you e-file using the free software.

  • John

    I have used TaxAct Delux for the past 5 years. I had used the other versions since 1973. As far as I’m concerned TurboTax and TaxCut (H&R Block) priced themselves out of the business. (I pay $17 for the Delux version Tax Act for State and Federal by ordering it in the Spring – My credit card isn’t charged until it becomes available. This is half of what the others want at Walmart or Staples. )
    (1) I get a very early version that actually works in December. Plenty of time to make adjustments in 4Q estimates if necessary.
    (2) Typically, I do my taxes by going directly to the Forms options. I find these look just like the Federal Forms and are very easy to navigate and find answers to.
    (3) My State version also looks like the State forms. This wasn’t always the case with TaxCut.
    (4) I also do the Q&A and Checks to be sure I don’t miss anything.
    Net: I like it better and it’s about half the price.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/TDV4TWP4A7UMGLZZDSTEBRMWTQ DeeR

      1973 ?

  • Ford2013

    Hated H&R Block! I submitted my 2011 1040A twice, and twice I got an email saying that I submitted my birthday incorrectly. I couldn’t figure out what date H&R block had for me, especially since I had my taxes filed at an H&R office just last year – and my other information showed up on the H&R website. I finally just gave up and used Turbotax. Turbotax was much more user friendly, an I managed to double my refund amount!

  • AOde3

    HELP, I’M ALMOST DONE W/ DOING MY taxes on line w/ H&R block, when it did it’s little check it said I can’t complete online because I have 3 1099-r’s and need a form not availble on line. Has any one ran into this? It didn’t say what form just contact & make an apt. (paying of course) Since I jsut did the whole federal and this showed on the check I don’t want to waste the time and money to pay someone to do what I’ve already done.

  • Guest

    Great Article. If you wouldn’t mind add completetax to the analysis.

  • RK12

    I have never tried anything besides Turbo Tax, and it has worked for me for several years. The only bad thing I can say about Turbo Tax is it will definitely waste your time having you fill in data that has no bearing on your tax return, such as all info from your W-2 instead of just the stuff that matters. It also will set you off digging for receipts only to find out later that you don’t come close to enough of whatever it is to take the deduction… they should tell you these details before they have you did for receipts.

    • http://twitter.com/DavidNRoach David Roach

      Exactly! Lots of digging, and then it recommends to “Take the Standard!” But I guess, how else would it know ahead of time?

      • RK12

        It should tell you up front “If you don’t have $12,000 in medical bills, don’t bother digging up receipts”… something like that, instead of telling you after an hour of work.

        • sierra19

          My experience is that it does tell you. Plus, there is a standard deduction and your itemized deductions would OBVIOUSLY have to be greater or why take it. These are things you should know before even beginning the process of entering your data. Sorry folks, if you’ve ever itemized then you should know basically what it is looking for. You can always pull up the pdf Schedule A on the IRS website and look at the items on the form.

        • Howard

          Sorry Sierra, they don’t tell you. same goes for employee related expenses. after pulling a years worth of med, dental, vision expenses and perscriptions for a family of 5 and finding it worthless, we didn’t know the same trick w/b pulled for employee expenses, that was years ago, so now we know, just like you do, or that property tax deduction would randomly would cut off, that was last year after pulling 7 complicated tax bills and supplements and trying to figure which went to which year (both states had tax years that straddle calendar years). I’m not a tax expert, but do know a lot, learned it the hard way. they could have said– if it’s not likely to be over 7.5% for med,2% for employee, and we still don’t know why some of the property tax didn’t count at the tail end, — don’t spend effort collecting receipts.

        • Sandy

          You should’ve googled it first. I did and found out right away my medical expenses wouldn’t make the cutoff. Saved me tons of time digging up old bills.

        • Howard

          an hour!? How about a day w a family of 5, did it once in the 90′, they could have said, don’t bother unless you feel it’s gonna be over 7.5% of a certain line, AGI or otherwise. but they don’t. another family evening spent away from the family, or missing a day of work, etc. turbotax is like Windows really crapy, but they’re working on it.

    • Howard

      hear,hear. turbotax is the worst imaginable. using it since 1995 we should know, functional problems most years. 2009 spent 2hrs w/ tech support because it wouldn’t install updates, 2010 almost finished by tax due date but then a big move happened and when we went to compete, file was corrupted and had to start all over again. program wouldn’t import, important w/ 3 kid’s info, 13 1099-Int, 1099-,div, 25 or so charities all of which require address info, and etc. A non-deductible IRA converted to a Roth and then some disallowed Roth contribs recharacterized back to the traditional took over 19 hrs, several calls to them and still has us paying tax on the wrong amount and wrong basis for the non-deductible traditional, mostly I blame the complicated tax code, but still, we have all the numbers and facts and still can’t get the right answers!!! mostly it might work for real basic filters, or a info as a prelim to going to a cpa, but the annual inability to install updates, occasional inability to import last year’s hard work, and other blips like, all forms are blanks (another hour on w/ them the reviewer here didn’t mention) are rude insults. use a cpa. we can’t because of one’s schedule requiring supervising presence during office hrs, so this junky program, apparently the best of the ones discussed is our only option.

      • Howard

        note, that s/b 13 1099-Int, plus another 11 of the others, a lot to re-enter, name, and etc. because several are from the same bank. typing this on an android is the problem, like turbotax, it only sorta works. I had to correct typos and deal w/ random input repeatedly to bring you the experience above. hate em both. too bad Apple doesn’t make a tax program, then therr might be at least one that works

  • guest

    Hey, Are you sure you are not getting a bit more in taxact because it treated your local tax refund as state tax refund and took it off of your state AGI subtractions. Seems like TaxACT has option of adding 1099-G (state/local tax refunds) but when doing your state tax return, it will subtract this amount from your state’s AGI since it treats them as state refunds. You need to make sure you don’t subtract the local tax refunds from AGI (which should have the local tax refunds added to your regular income just like your last year’s state refund.)

    The only I could bypass this is to goto state subtractions step and manually correct it to only include 2010 state refund and not the local tax refund amount.

  • Jimojin

    Best was H&R block! Worst was TaxAct. Really a stupid non-functional program.

    And TTax is a ripoff on every level

  • Call2action951

    Thanks for doing this comparison! Good evaluations and appreciated your detailed experiences

  • Goodoleboy58

    I have used TaxAct for several years and have found it to be pretty simple to use. However, it is the only software I have used since doing my taxes by hand.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TDV4TWP4A7UMGLZZDSTEBRMWTQ DeeR

    I have a simple 1040 and for years, used to go to the HR office and file until that class action lawsuit where they were overcharging people happened. I signed my name on it and got a settlement check for like $30.00 *whatever* So, I switched to Turbo Tax and they are crooks too. They claimed it was free, but ended up charging me for e-filing. So, I am going to TaxAct because it says you can e-file for free as well. If they seem honest and I like them, I will pay to have them do my state as well. I usually get about $2000.00 back from HR and Turbo Tax so I hope this one is just as accurate.

    Wish me luck :)

    • acb550

      With the exception of this year and one other year (both years I lived in multiple states and have multiple state returns) I have always filed for free. You should be fine. Unlike you, I was able to file free with TurboTax as well… but I find I like TaxAct better, but I wanted to read more reviews this year again. I wish you the best of luck!

  • Skyhighjy

    I used TurboTax for a couple years until 2 yrs ago i discovered (through my CC statement!!) that they automatically charged me for a CD they sent in the mail that I never authorized or even asked for??!! After a 30min phone call, They agree’d to reverse the charge but I switched to the H&R block program and have had no problems since. This experiance plus the recent smear ads against H&R block just re-inforces to me at least, that Intuit & Turbo Tax is a dirty company.

  • smader12

    Nice blog. Very well written and you make great points. I think I will give Tax Act a try to save some cash. Thanks!

  • Louis

    Thanks for your thorough review. It is very helpful and encouraging to people who may want to consider using a tax program. I have done taxes for five years with TaxAct. Have been satisfied but this year found the program was more clunky. I hope they don’t start backsliding now.

    The 2013 innovation of allowing direct entry on tax forms is great.

    Before i used TurboTax for 10 years, before that my own spreadsheet calculations, before that manually (ugh).

  • Chrissy

    For the last three years I myself have used taxact and find it very simple to use. And I enjoy not paying the outrageous tax prep fees.

  • Joe W

    I appreciate this informative article. And I agree with its summary verdict. However, I found TaxAct far superior to Turbo Tax in many respects. Yes, it may use slightly more sophisticated terms such those used by IRS in a few instances. Yet, this software is succinct and easily to follow. With TurboTax, the questions asked did not always appear logical.

    Deducting depreciation with TurboTax was arduous in my particular case. I attempted to follow the method used in the prior year, which would not provide the largest refund in the current year but would allows me to deduct the depreciation over a longer period of time. However, this software automatically used accelerated depreciation. I had to read through numerous embedded blog posts to figure out a work-around, which ultimately required me to identify this asset as “other.” Comparatively, TaxAct enabled me to identify the asset accurately and select the preferred depreciation method simply.

    Tax Act enables you to review and modify entries within particular sections more readily. Contrarily, TurboTax requires you to complete a full series of questions to modify a particular entry. In addition, TaxAct allow you to preview, print, or save the draft tax forms (not the separate forms or schedules) prior to the starting the filing process. Contrarily, Turbo Tax requires you to begin the filing process to review tax forms; the summary review is available only in an on-screen window. You can only print or save tax forms after returns are filed.

    My preference is definitely TaxAct. Yet, TurboTax does a good job at simplifying tax jargon. However, it does so at the detriment of asking questions that might seem irrelevant or unrelated to the specific entries-at-hand. Thus, I found using this software relatively frustrating as a more experienced tax filer.

  • Mike

    Thanks for the review, gonna stuck with tax act 3rd year in a row. Thought I’d look for a good comparison before making my decision.

  • Bruce

    This is the third year with TaxACT for me. First two were a breeze but this time I can’t figure out how to enter my cooperative’s patronage refund (1099-PATR) into the income section. I get routed through non-related topics and can see where it’s supposed to go on Form F but can’t get to it electronically–TaxACT questions don’t take me there. The first two years it asked for this amount directly– couldn’t miss it then, but now can’t get to an place to enter it. Shouldn’t have to play games for such a simple entry from an official form. Still waiting for useful help with this.

  • Tania N

    I have been using TaxAct since 2009 and I do my taxes, my bf (he has a business) and I use to do my parents taxes (retired) until mom my passed away in 2011 (taxes to do for a deceased are really hard but TaxAct helped me through it by clicking on the ?) Now I have to do a deceased one for my dad at the end of this year. Some people may not know how to nagigate through the site, I never found it to be an issue.

    I had very little accounting experience before I started using TaxAct, and was never able to do my taxes on the paper form you mail in, that is just plan confusing to me. I have never upgraded on TaxAct and I always have great returns. I like how it shows me my return in the upper right hand corner and by clicking something then unclicking to see what gives me the most back like determing how I want to file, Head of Household or single with dependents, etc. I actually visited this website because I was thinking of switching this year for some odd reason, I guess all the hype on TurboTax. But I now know to stick with Tax Act, it is the cheapest and I do trust it.

  • acb550

    I jump back and forth with TurboTax and TaxAct. I’ll even do both and compare them! I’ve been using TaxAct more, I think they do a better job, but I agree TurboTax is an easier interface. I can’t recall if it was TurboTax or TaxAct that I did the taxes, found an error and had to redo my tax on the other program. (I still manually filed a 1040X so I could keep my costs free). I’ve already paid for the Deluxe TaxAct this year as I got in at $14 for Deluxe and the State. Ordinarily, I do all the forms myself… I’ll even use TaxAct to find out what my state should be, do the forms myself and see how they compare. This year I had too many life events: move from one state to another, buy a new (and our first and hopefully last) home, and a baby! I figure the phone support and paying will be the way to go. I know TurboTax has deals with many companies (e.g. Shop Discover), so I just wanted to see reviews comparing the companies to make sure I’d be okay with Tax Act. Glad you found it to be the best too

  • ktb63

    I just filled my taxes with TaxAct…. MUCH better than TaxSlayer that I have used in years past. Very thorough questions, easy to bet through and a good refund for me! Thanks for your recommendation.

  • taxugh

    I’m totally worried! I usually use TaxAct but decided to compare this year. With TaxAct, we would get approx $4500 back, with TurboTax, it is over $9000. All info is the same and I can’t see where the difference is other than a larger Child Tax Credit on Turbo Tax. But it doesn’t cover that much of a difference!

    • dragonball

      it’s over 9000!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Salantra

      You made a booboo. Hope you recheck it before you send it in.

  • SomeSubjectiveSomeObjective

    Good article. I agree with it. I stopped using taxcut a few years ago after it refused to tolerate a particular state deduction. When i contacted customer service they said use our fat client (CD) for that. I thought no thank you; what else am I missing I didn’t know about?

    I’ve used taxact but despite it being thorough it is indeed a terrible interface compared to the beautiful simplicity of turbotax. If I was cheap I could turbotax and then run the same numbers through taxact, but I suppose TT probably deserves something for their business, although their prices are wildly higher.

  • Rick Shinsec

    I can tell you why Turbo Tax doesn’t let you pay out of your refund anymore. They are currently in the middle of a class action law suit because they were charging a $39 convenience fee for taking their software cost out of the refund. Seems like they are admitting that option was completely uncool by removing it from this years payment options.

  • Beth

    I have been using tax act for years now and its easy to use and we itemize so it has all the areas to enter real estate taxes, mortgage insurance, student loan interest etc I think you just have to use the deluxe version which is still pretty darn cheap I think the deluxe with state is under 20 bucks actually I think they call it their Ultimate Bundle

  • T.K.Nosworthy

    Does anyone know if TurboTax Premier is what I need if I have income and expenses for both foreign and domestic
    rental property?

    • nonstatist

      You do not “need” premier but it will help if you are not familiar with filling out the tax forms associated with these incomes.

  • Maria

    We own a small business. Our corporate taxes are done by our accountant, but to save money, I’ll file our personal income taxes, myself. I believe I need to enter the amount of our business Income/loss, so every year I shell out extra money for the Premier Edition of Turbo Tax. Does anyone one know if the Deluxe Edition could provide the same? Thank you.

  • Carmen

    Thank you so much for doing this research it is very helpful. :)

  • Kelly

    First time tax filer on my own this year as inexperienced as it gets.. i tried all three programs (HR, TURBOTAX, TAXACT). I found that navigating all of the sites was fairly simple and easy. However I found turbotax to be the best for me. Simply because they made it easy for me to understand what information i needed to put in and where it needed to go. I felt like i was guessing on things with tax act and H&R, but with turbotax i was confident with the information i was providing. I am certainly not qualified to say which program was the best overall. But I better understood the process and learned more about the process with turbotax. I feel as if i tookbig testand knew i got some portion of it wrong with the other programs..(taxact,HR) I felt like i had a cheat sheet with all the asnwers it
    with turbo tax

  • mie77

    Turbotax also did knock down my state refund a WHOPPING $217! I wish someone from Turbotax can explain what that is all about. I entered no new information, I just saw the value drop! What gives?

  • Kinduva Tramp

    I used all three this year. Turbo tax and tax act had the same refund. H&R Block got me twice as large a refund? I went with the larger refund obviously, even though H&R block charged a bit more. Also they were a bit frustrating because they kept asking me vague unanswerable questions, had no live chat, never responded to emails, and
    would not e-file my return. Still, for twice the refund I went with H&R block. Probably won’t next year, preferred Tax act.

  • timverry

    I have used TaxACT for the past two years and I generally agree with your assessment in that it could definitely be made to be more personalized and user friendly. Before i used TaxACT, I used Turbo Tax Home & Business, but it is fairly expensive now that I know what I am doing. Also, I only use the free version of TaxACT for the federal e-File and use my states free web-filing option. In Illinois the state return is pretty easy to do becuase most of the hard work is done on the federal forms (the Illinois return basically starts off with you entering the federal AGI and going from there for them to get their cut hehe). TaxACT is definitely not the easiest to use, but once you’ve been through the process once, doing taxes the next year is a breeze. And you can’t beat the price of free when it comes to tax prep software :).

  • Chava A

    Turbo Tax Deluxe (more than basic but cheaper than home/business) does offer Sched C, just less support in going through it, not sure exactly what that means because I do have sched c’s but never tried the home and business because I felt OK with the plain deluxe. I HOPE I’m ok that is…

  • amyrwhitaker

    my co-worker’s mother-in-law makes $69 /hour on the
    laptop . She has been laid off for 9 months but last month her pay check was
    $13409 just working on the laptop for a few hours. see this here R­e­x­1­0­.­C­O­M­

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