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eFile Review 2021 – Is This Low-Cost Tax Prep Really Less Taxing?


FEATURED PROMOTION

At a glance

Our rating

3.7/5

eFile

  • CPA Involvement: Not directly
  • Plans: Free Basic plan — free federal return for simple tax situations; Deluxe plan — $29 federal return for moderately complex situations; Premium plan — $39 federal return for all other situations
  • State Returns Included: No; $28 for unlimited state returns
  • Pay With Your Refund: Yes; service fee applies (subject to change)
  • Audit Defense: Audit assistance at no additional charge; no representation
  • Mobile Capabilities: Mobile-friendly website


Dig Deeper

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Tax service eFile is ideal for frugal tax return filers confident enough to prepare their own taxes with minimal support. It does have some value-added features not offered by other bargain tax prep providers, such as tax expert access, pay-with-your-refund capabilities, and a price-match guarantee.

But it’s not in the same league as full-service online providers like TurboTax or online providers with in-person arms, such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Online. Before you jump on board thanks to this tax service’s attractive pricing, learn more about its features, advantages, drawbacks, and overall suitability.

eFile Plans, Pricing, and Features

Don’t confuse eFile, a low-cost online tax prep provider, with E-file.com, an unrelated competitor that offers a similar suite of services. It’s also not to be confused with IRS e-File, the process by which U.S. taxpayers file electronic federal returns. The URL for this tax service is eFile.com.

Once you complete the initial onboarding questions covering personal and demographic information, you can work on any section or tax form of your return in any order you choose. Though the interview process isn’t quite as exhaustive or novice-friendly as some full-service tax prep options, you can still complete your entire return — even advanced forms — without much experience.

For more involved sections, such as income, you can pick specific subtopics (such as wages, interest and dividends, or business) or allow eFile to walk you through each subtopic in order.

If you live, work, or earn income in a jurisdiction that levies state income taxes, you see the state tax return interface following the completion of your federal return. The software auto-populates as much state tax return information as possible, saving time and effort on your part.

When you finish the state portion, you can review everything you’ve done before submitting it. The software checks your entries for accuracy and flags inconsistent or potentially inaccurate responses.

All eFile customers must choose from one of three free or reasonably priced plans: Free Basic, Deluxe, or Premium. Each has unique features and capabilities.

Free Basic

This plan includes a free federal tax return. And thanks to eFile’s unlimited state returns for $28.95, there’s no need to pay for more than one state return because you moved across state lines during the tax year or earned income in multiple states.

The Basic plan is appropriate for filers with simple tax situations. Specifically, you must meet these criteria:

  • Filing Status. You must be single or married filing jointly. Married couples filing separately need to upgrade.
  • Income. Your taxable income can’t exceed $100,000. Acceptable sources include wage and salary income, tips, unemployment, taxable scholarships and grants, Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, and interest under $1,500.
  • Credits and Deductions. You can’t claim any adjustments to income (deductions or credits) other than the earned income tax credit. Unacceptable deductions include the student loan interest deduction.
  • Other Criteria. Some other criteria apply as well. For instance, you can’t owe wages to household employees or claim casualty or disaster losses.

Deluxe

The Deluxe plan costs $29 for your federal tax return. Unlimited state tax returns cost $28.

The Deluxe plan is appropriate for filers with moderate tax complexity. Specifically, filers must meet these criteria:

  • Income. Your taxable income can’t exceed $100,000. Acceptable sources include wage and salary income, tips, unemployment, taxable scholarships and grants, Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, interest under $1,500, retirement income (including Social Security and pensions), and capital gains.
  • Itemized Deductions. You need to upgrade to Deluxe to itemize your deductions. The eFile software automatically determines whether you’re better off itemizing or claiming the standard deduction.
  • Additional Credits and Deductions. All other common credits and deductions for individual filers — not including deductions associated with business or rental income — are available with the Deluxe plan. See eFile’s website for a complete accounting.
  • Other Criteria. Some other criteria apply as well. See eFile’s website for more details.

Premium

The Premium plan costs $39 for your federal return. Unlimited state returns cost $28.

The Premium plan is appropriate for filers with complex tax situations. It supports virtually all tax situations, including:

  • High-Income Filers. If you earned more than $100,000 during the tax year, you need to file with Premium.
  • Freelancers and Independent Professionals. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur with significant self-employment income, you may need to file Schedule C using this plan.
  • Small-Business Owners. If you own shares in a small business, you can file the proper forms with this plan, regardless of your business’s legal structure.
  • Unreported Tips. If you had more than $20 in unreported cash tips in any given month during the tax year, you can report them here.
  • Less Common Income. You can report less common types of income, such as property rental income and gambling winnings, using this plan. See the eFile website for more details.

Additional Features

Some additional eFile features worth noting are available with all three plans, though some involve additional charges.

Tax Calculator

The eFile TAXstimator tax calculator is a handy little tax liability estimator, though it comes with no guarantees.

Free Premium Support

The company used to charge for premium support from tax experts, but that appears to be a thing of the past. Filers at all plan levels enjoy free premium support, including questions about return-specific issues, using eFile’s on-site ticketing system.

Real-Time Tax Refund Tracker

Like most online tax prep programs, eFile has a real-time refund tracker that shows your expected federal and state refunds or liabilities. These numbers change with each relevant entry.

Knowledge Base

The company has an extensive DIY help database stocked with common topics related to its tax prep software, tax preparation in general, tax filing, and U.S. tax law. It’s adequate to answer most straightforward questions that arise during the tax prep process, though its heavier tax topics may be confusing for those not well-versed in tax law.

Pay With Your Federal Tax Refund

You can pay your prep fees with your federal refund, provided it’s large enough to cover the cost. There’s a one-time charge associated with this service.

Audit Assistance

Complimentary audit assistance comes with all eFile plans, including the free plan. It isn’t full-blown audit representation, which some online tax prep providers and most human tax professionals offer for an additional fee. Rather, eFile’s team can help you evaluate IRS notices and respond appropriately.

Maximum Refund Guarantee

Like most online tax prep software providers, eFile offers a maximum refund guarantee. If an identical return prepared with a competitor nets you a larger refund or lower tax liability, eFile may reimburse your prep fees and pay you $100 extra.

Be aware that the window to take advantage of this guarantee is pretty limited. You need to contact eFile in writing no later than 60 days after the IRS accepts your e-filed tax return.

Accuracy Guarantee

The accuracy guarantee is straightforward: If you receive a penalty fee from the IRS or a state tax agency because eFile’s software made a calculation error, eFile will pay both the penalty and interest.

Lowest Price Guarantee

The company offers to “meet and beat” any competitor’s price on plans with identical features and services. It doesn’t spell out the amount by which eFile is willing to beat any price, so it’s likely a case-by-case determination.

This offer comes with serious caveats. For instance, eFile makes the final decision about what constitutes equivalent services and reserves the right to factor in such features as its pay-with-your-refund pricing, which it claims is the lowest around.


Advantages

It may not be the most well-known tax preparation service around, but eFile has a lot going for it.

1. State Return Pricing Includes Unlimited State Returns

The company charges a single fee for your state tax filing, no matter how many state returns you need to prepare. If you moved across state lines during the tax year or earned income in another state (for instance, from a business or interstate commute), your state prep fees won’t multiply.

2. Higher-Priced Plans Are Cheap by Industry Benchmarks

The highest-priced eFile plan costs $39 for your federal tax return and $28 for unlimited state tax returns. That’s far less than full-service providers like TurboTax and lower-priced options like TaxAct alike.

Though eFile isn’t the lowest-priced tax prep product around — that distinction is shared by FreeTaxUSA and TaxHawk — it definitely offers above-average value.

3. You Can Pay Prep Fees With Your Federal Tax Refund

Like other e-filing services, eFile lets you pay your tax prep fees with your federal tax refund as long as your anticipated refund is large enough to cover the fees and processing charge. The processing charge is lower than some competitors’ fees too.


Disadvantages

Low prices and unlimited state tax return filing are big pluses, but eFile does come with some drawbacks.

1. Basic and Deluxe Plans Built for Simple Tax Situations Only

Neither eFile’s free version nor its lower-priced paid plan is designed for complicated tax situations, such as self-employed taxpayers and those looking to deduct things like mortgage interest.

If you’re among the millions of U.S. taxpayers for whom the most basic tax forms are inadequate, you must upgrade to Premium — a roughly $60 expense if you must file state taxes and aren’t paying prep fees with your return. If your situation is complex, opt for a more comprehensive platform instead, such as FreeTaxUSA.

2. Limited Support Resources

This company’s customer support resources are pretty thin. The email-based support ticketing is rudimentary at best, and the DIY help database is a slog for folks without much tax prep experience. If you need more hand-holding, consider a full-service alternative, such as TurboTax.

3. The Maximum Refund Guarantee Window Is Very Short

With a $100 bonus for successful claims, eFile’s maximum refund guarantee is more generous than average. However, its 60-day active window is much shorter than industry-standard guarantees, which run for months following IRS acceptance.

While this isn’t by itself a deal-breaker, it heightens the stakes and may present a serious challenge for busy taxpayers unable to stay on top of the filing process.

4. The Interface Isn’t Particularly User-Friendly (or Mobile-Friendly)

The eFile tax prep interface looks a little dated, doesn’t display well on a small screen (though the website is technically mobile-friendly), and has some confusing elements for less-than-confident filers. If you’re looking for a truly seamless experience, you may want to spring for a higher-priced program like TurboTax.


Final Word

Set aside eFile‘s confusing name, and you’re left with a low-cost online tax return prep program that’s suitable for millions of filers with straightforward tax situations and the confidence necessary to navigate the preparation process with minimal help.

That’s an attractive proposition, to be sure. But eFile isn’t perfect. If your situation has any curveballs at all, you’ll probably find yourself paying for the Premium plan.

And if you’re a DIY tax prep novice, eFile might not be the best place to start. To find more user-friendly options, check out our top picks for free online tax preparation software and services.

FEATURED PROMOTION

The Verdict

Our rating

3.7/5

eFile

Tax service eFile is appropriate for frugal filers who don’t want to pay more for full-service tax prep sites that hold their hands through the process from start to finish. With value-added features and a beat-any-price guarantee, it’s definitely a step up from bargain-basement services. But given its limitations, eFile is priced fairly.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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