E-file.com is a low-cost online tax preparation software company that made our list of the top free online tax preparation services. It offers free tax prep and filing for anyone who qualifies for a 1040EZ – most of whom can complete their returns in 15 minutes or less, according to E-file.com.
E-file.com is not to be confused with IRS e-file, which is the general process of filing your federal taxes online. Nor is it to be confused with efile.com, a nearly identically named competitor. (E-file.com’s marketing emails remind URL-typers to remember the hyphen.)
E-file.com is merely one of many private companies authorized to e-file tax returns with the Federal Government. Its most popular competitors include established online tax prep companies such as TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct, as well as newer, leaner upstarts such as TaxHub.
E-file.com is cheaper than full-service competitors such as TurboTax and H&R Block. However, it’s very much a DIY option, without nearly the level of customer support and user-friendliness as those two established companies. Price-wise, E-file.com is roughly on par with TaxAct, though TaxAct has somewhat better customer support.
Considering that it’s affordable, fast, and fairly easy to use for anyone with experience preparing their own tax return, E-file.com deserves a closer look from anyone concerned with the size of their tax prep bill.
Pricing and Plans
E-file.com has a no-frills, stripped-down tax preparation interface that takes a hybrid interview/DIY approach.
Each section (for example, “Income”) and subsection (for example, “Investments”) begins with a short interview that asks basic questions about your life situation. Based on your answers to each batch of questions, you’re shown a list of suggested forms and schedules. If you’re confident that you know which forms and schedules to fill out without answering questions about your tax situation, you can skip right to the forms – a significant time-saver, as long as you know how to fill out the forms.
Like many online tax software companies, E-file.com has an accuracy guarantee that protects users against calculation errors caused by software glitches.
In prior tax years, the guarantee wasn’t very well advertised – in 2016, I found it buried in a dense article about how E-file.com works. The good news is that E-File.com updated their website for 2017 and 2018. The platform now clearly advertises the accuracy guarantee, along with the sort of maximum refund guarantee that’s common among online tax prep providers.
E-file.com offers three plans. Of note: each plan’s state return pricing is good for multiple state returns, no matter how many you need to file. This is an important point of distinction from most other tax prep services, which charge separate fees for each state return.
1. Free Federal Edition
- Federal Return: Free
- State Return: $17.50 with code “SAVE30”
The Free Federal Edition is appropriate for single and joint filers without dependents or the need to file additional schedules – basically, anyone who can complete their taxes using Form 1040EZ only.
2. Deluxe Plus Edition
- Federal Return: $18.99 (normally $24.99)
- State: $17.50
Deluxe is appropriate for single and joint filers with dependents, as well as anyone else who can complete their taxes using Form 1040A. Use code “SAVE30” to capture the promotional pricing.
3. Premium Edition
- Federal Return: $34.95 (normally $45.99)
- State: $17.50
Premium is appropriate for people with moderately to very complex tax situations, including those with investment income, small business income, and rental property income. Use code “SAVE30” to capture the promotional pricing.
All of E-file.com’s plans come with the following features:
Prior-Year Return Importing from E-file.com
If you filed your return with E-file.com last year, you can import its information directly into your current-year return. However, you can’t import from other online tax prep services.
Filing Prior-Year Returns
If you failed to file a return for a prior tax year, you can use one of E-file.com’s three plans to do so. There’s no additional charge for this service beyond the headline price of your chosen plan. Note that you can only claim refunds going back three tax years. If you’re filing for an earlier year, you’ll forfeit any refund to which you may have been entitled.
E-file.com’s primary mode of customer support is an email-based ticketing system. To use it, you fill out a simple form on the website, provide written detail about your problem, and send it off to E-file.com’s staff. The system typically produces an email response within one business day.
E-file.com offers an optional audit assistance add-on at no additional charge. If you opt into audit assistance and the IRS subsequently audits your return, E-file.com handles all communication with the IRS on your behalf and provides regular status updates.
E-file.com’s return interface has a help sidebar with basic information about the tax topics you’re working on and basic advice about how to proceed. As you move through each form, the sidebar automatically updates to reflect your position. However, the advice is generally quite basic, and often not that helpful – for instance, when you mouse over an address field, the sidebar says something like, “Enter your home address,” or “Enter your business address.”
Pay With Your Refund
E-file.com lets you pay for your tax preparation fees with your tax refund, eliminating the need to provide your credit card information for an upfront payment. It provides this service through EPS Financial, a partner company. There is a $19 fee for choosing this payment method, subject to change.
1. Very Competitive Pricing
E-file.com is cheaper than many competitors. In fact, it’s one of the very few tax prep programs that’s grown cheaper over time. The Deluxe Plus plan’s discounted price dropped about $6 from 2017 to 2018, for instance. Its full price dropped about $15.
The Free Federal Edition is available to any filer who qualifies to use Form 1040EZ, and the two higher-priced versions are fairly cheap as well: $18.99 (regularly $24.99) for Deluxe Plus and $34.95 (regularly $45.99) for Premium. That’s about half the cost of comparable plans from H&R Block, and as little as one-third the cost of comparable plans from TurboTax.
2. Simple, No-Frills Approach
E-file.com’s tax prep interface is stripped down and straightforward, with lots of white space and few extraneous features. The preparation process itself is also simple and straightforward. The software uses fewer questions than most competitors, so you don’t have to click through a ton of screens or answer lots of redundant questions at the start of each section.
If you know which forms and schedules you need to fill out (and how to complete them), you’re likely to complete your E-file.com return much more quickly than an identical return prepared on TurboTax and TaxAct, both of which are significantly more labor-intensive.
3. You Can Pay With Your Refund
You can pay your E-file.com tax prep fees with your anticipated tax refund if you’re eligible to receive one. This is a nice perk for those who might not want to (or otherwise cannot) pay upfront.
4. Tight Security Practices
E-file.com has above-average security, at least from the user’s perspective. The account and password requirements are stricter than many competitors’ – I actually wasn’t able to use my default tax prep software username to create an E-file.com account because it didn’t have enough characters, and I had to cycle through several attempts to create a random password. Also, E-file.com times out after approximately 10 minutes.
1. No Free State Returns
Budget-friendly branding aside, E-file.com doesn’t offer a 100% free filing option for customers who have to file state taxes, even if they qualify for the free federal deal. If you have a simple tax situation and live in a state without state income taxes, such as Nevada or Florida, you can use E-file.com for free. But the majority of E-file.com users must pay $19 to file state taxes. The silver lining: if you earned income in more than one state, you at least don’t have to pay for multiple state returns.
2. Very Limited Customer Support
E-file.com’s customer support infrastructure is very limited. There’s no way to get in touch with E-file.com staff by phone, and the only means of contacting a human helper at all is to fill out a rather basic support ticket. At multiple points during the ticketing process, E-file.com directs users to specific FAQs or knowledge base topics, not-so-subtly discouraging human contact. And, on the ticketing system’s initial intake form, E-file.com advises customers to contact the IRS (a phone number is provided) with “specific questions.”
Most larger competitors, including TurboTax, H&R Block, and Jackson Hewitt Online, have human phone (and, in H&R Block’s and Jackson Hewitt’s cases, in-person) staff members available to handle customer service issues. And FreeTaxUSA, an even cheaper discount tax prep option, has a live chat plus email ticketing.
3. Perfunctory Help System
In addition to a lack of human customer support, E-file.com has a mediocre-at-best onsite help system. Its knowledge base isn’t as comprehensive as TurboTax’s, nor does it have a user-generated question-and-answer component (which is often more helpful than canned FAQs or topics written by the tax prep company’s staff). Though the articles in its knowledge base generally cover common topics and questions, they’re often long-winded and circuitous. I question their writers’ collective expertise.
Outside the knowledge base, E-file.com’s help content is sometimes thin and confusing. For instance, when I was in a prior year asked whether I wanted to file separately or jointly with my spouse, I clicked the “Help Me Decide” button and got a one-sentence answer – “Couples often choose this option if they have a sizable difference in income” – with no context or further explanation to help me weigh the pros and cons of each option.
4. Little to No Guidance for Complex Situations
E-file.com is not ideal for filers with complex tax situations, unless they’re confident that they can fill out the requisite forms and schedules accurately. This is because E-file.com provides very little guidance during the preparation process, either in the form of guided questions or a help sidebar. Instead, the software asks you a series of basic questions (“Do you own a home?” “Did you pay interest on a mortgage?” “Did you pay property taxes?”) and, using your responses, provides a list of forms to fill out. You fill out the forms field by field, just as you would if you were using pen and paper, with no questions or explanations to keep you within the rails.
Though the help sidebar offers one-sentence explanations of most form fields, they’re usually self-evident: “Enter your full name,” “Enter your home address.”
This lack of guidance is a pretty big oversight, as just about every other DIY online tax prep system I’ve used has at least some support for complex situations (either in question or help topic form).
5. No Importing Capabilities
You can’t import prior-year returns from other online tax prep services. You also can’t import tax-related files from third parties, such as 1099 statements from your brokerage. The lack of importing from other tax prep services is a hassle for anyone who has filed a tax return in the past, and the lack of 1099 importing is a big time-waster for anyone who actively trades securities.
6. Quirky Interface
E-file.com’s tax prep interface is pretty basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the system lacks superfluous colors and content that might distract or confuse some users. However, it does have some strange quirks that can affect – and in some cases impede – the user experience.
For example, when you’re asked to select your birth date and click in the appropriate text field, a little month-by-month calendar pops up – similar to the calendars on online travel booking platforms. But the calendar defaults to the current year, which is absurd, as infants and in-utero babies don’t file their own taxes. There’s a small drop-down menu that lets you adjust the year and eventually select the correct date, but it’s not displayed very prominently and takes a second or two to find.
7. Free Version Is Very Limited
E-file.com’s free version is intended for very simple tax situations only. If your taxes are too complicated to complete using Form 1040EZ, you need to upgrade to Deluxe Plus at least. H&R Block’s free version can handle significantly more complex situations, including those involving itemized deductions.
Unlike better-known competitors such as TurboTax and H&R Block, E-file.com is a relatively new online tax prep service without name recognition or much of an established reputation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as new companies are often able to offer service quality or overall value that established companies can’t match.
On the other hand, new companies also tend to have fewer resources to handle unforeseen problems or address customer concerns as they arise. Many of E-file.com’s drawbacks, particularly its noticeable lack of support resources, can ultimately be traced back to its lean structure and newcomer status.
The good news is that these problems are fixable. As E-file.com gains traction in the marketplace, it’s likely to grow and mature. But it can’t get to that point without buy-in from early adopters in search of cheap, accurate online tax preparation services.
For more options, check out our full list of Top-Rated Free Online Tax Preparation Services.