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H&R Block Review – Free Tax Filing & Online Return Preparation

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At a Glance
4.3 / 5
Rating

Start Your Taxes Now

H&R Block Online Tax Software

  • CPA Involvement: Optional at an additional charge with the Tax Pro Review and Tax Pro Go packages (and with in-person filing at H&R Block branch offices)
  • Plans: Free, free for simple situations (including EITC support); Deluxe, $29.99 to $49.99, for self-employed and retired filers; Premium, $49.99 to $69.99, for investors, small business owners, and others with complex situations; Self-Employed, $79.99 to $104.99, for sole proprietors with significant self-employment income; Tax Pro Go, variable pricing (from $49.99 to more than $300) depending on situational complexity, for filers looking for hands-on help from an expert preparer
  • State Returns Included: Free with the Free plan only; $36.99 for each state return with all other plans
  • Pay With Your Refund: Yes; up to $39.99 service fee applies
  • Audit Defense: Yes; complimentary, in-person audit assistance (information and advice only) available to all users at no charge
  • Mobile Capabilities: Yes (Android and iOS apps with extensive functionality)

H&R Block routinely makes our list of top free online tax preparation services, and for good reason.

It’s no secret that H&R Block has one of the most recognizable brands of any American business. Its distinctive green square beckons from TV screens, strip malls, and corner storefronts. Even many small towns have a standalone H&R Block office, and you certainly don’t have to go far to find one in a bigger city. For many Americans, H&R Block is synonymous with in-person tax preparation, along with popular competitors such as Liberty Tax and Jackson Hewitt.

But H&R Block also makes one of the most popular online tax preparation programs. It’s ideal for a broad range of tax situations, though people with very complicated taxes may feel more comfortable walking into a physical H&R Block office and shouldering the additional cost.

Historically, H&R Block has occupied a middle ground between affordable DIY services such as TaxAct and TaxSlayer, and pricier, novice-friendly services like TurboTax. In recent tax seasons, H&R Block’s pricing and service model has veered  toward the latter. A new hybrid package, Tax Pro Go, is designed for hands-off filers seeking professional assistance at below-market prices. A lighter-weight feature, Tax Pro Review, gives DIY filers a much-needed confidence boost for far less than the cost of a CPA sit-down.

All told, H&R Block’s online tax filing system appeals to just about everyone, including filers wary of the DIY model. Whether you have only the barest familiarity with online tax filing (and taxes in general) or boast years of complex self-prep under your belt, you can find a plan or package that fits your needs here. Yes, even if you need to file a Schedule C for self-employment income from freelancing or solopreneurship.

Plans, Pricing & Features

H&R Block uses an interview-style tax preparation process that methodically guides you through your federal and state returns, making sure you’ve entered all sources of income and checked for all appropriate credits and deductions along the way. You need to complete these sections in order – you can’t choose what to work on at what time, and can only skip forward to sections that have already been completed. Certain versions of other programs, such as TaxAct, let you skip around. That’s a plus for confident filers who know what they need to work on and when.

Plan Types

H&R Block has four DIY pricing plans, one hybrid plan with expert assistance at pre-defined checkpoints throughout the prep process, and a customizable CPA- or EA-aided plan that’s basically a remote version of in-office prep.

If you want to go the DIY route, you can select any of the available plans to start. If you attempt to do something that isn’t supported by your current plan, H&R Block prompts you to upgrade and doesn’t allow you to continue your return until you do.

The expert-assisted plan, Tax Pro Go (#6 below), is a one-size-fits-all deal. No matter how complex your tax situation is, you won’t be prompted to upgrade during the Tax Pro Go prep process – though your fees will depend on the effort required to push your return across the finish line. You’ll see those fees upfront, based on your answers to a few basic questions about your situation.

Accuracy Guarantee

For all of these plans, H&R Block has an accurate calculation guarantee: If the software makes an error that results in an IRS penalty, H&R Block agrees to pay that penalty and any associated interest, up to $10,000 per tax year.

Potential Price Increases

Like many tax prep software providers, H&R Block raises its fees as tax day approaches. The step-up date varies from year to year and generally isn’t revealed well in advance. It therefore pays to begin your return as early in the season as possible, even if you don’t yet have all the documentation necessary to complete your return.

1. Free

H&R Block’s free version is ideal for filers with relatively simple tax situations, including those who need to itemize deductions, report ordinary dividend or interest income, and file Schedule EIC (for the Earned Income Tax Credit). Your federal and state return are both free.

  • W-2 Importing and Photo Upload. This plan allows you to import unlimited W-2s and record all W-2 income, which is a big help if you have multiple jobs. You can upload your W-2s simply by snapping a smartphone pic and using the secure photo upload tool.
  • Automatic Past-year Return Importing from Competitors. This plan allows you to import prior-year tax returns prepared with competing tax prep services, including popular options such as TurboTax and lesser-known services such as TaxHub. All you have to do is create a PDF version of your prior-year return and drag it into the field when prompted at the beginning of your return.
  • Importing Other Forms. You can also import a variety of other forms, though not photographically: 1095-A, 1099-DIV, 1099-R, and 1099-INT.
  • Support for Affordable Care Act Requirements. After you enter your personal information, you’re immediately asked a series of questions about your health insurance coverage during the tax year. All versions of H&R Block support all the forms and documentation necessary to prove that you had adequate coverage for the entire year or to handle penalties if not. You should also check with the Department of Health and Human Services and IRS for up-to-date guidance regarding your obligations to carry health insurance coverage, known as the “individual mandate.” Though the bulk of the Affordable Care Act remains in effect as of early 2018, major tax legislation passed in December 2017 effectively repealed the individual mandate by reducing penalties for insufficient insurance to $0, per Business Insider.
  • Technical Support. Free filers have access to H&R Block’s live chat system for technical support only. If you want your tax questions answered by a human, you need to upgrade to a paid plan.
  • Refund Advance Loan. If you choose to complete your tax return in an H&R Block storefront location before March 1, 2019, you can take advantage of the company’s Refund Advance Loan. It’s a 0% interest cash advance loan on your expected tax refund, with a maximum principal of $3,000. Your loan is loaded onto a reloadable prepaid debit card within 48 hours.

2. Deluxe

The Deluxe plan, which costs $29.99 ($49.99 as the filing deadline approaches) for your federal return and $36.99 for each state return, is ideal for filers with retirement income, filers with capital gains or losses from investments, and those who made charitable donations (cash and non-cash) with a total value in excess of $500 during the tax year.

It comes with all the features and functions of the Basic plan, plus:

  • Itemized Deductions (Schedule A). You can itemize your deductions (file Schedule A) with this version. If you’re not sure whether to itemize, H&R Block’s interview questions can guide you towards the appropriate choice.
  • Support for Filers With Charitable Donations. This version offers detailed guidance and support for those who made cash and non-cash charitable contributions more than $500 during the tax year (IRS Form 8283).
  • Automatic Past-Year Return Importing from H&R Block. This plan comes with free, automatic importing for prior-year returns from H&R Block.
  • Expert Phone Support. Deluxe filers have free, unlimited chat access to H&R Block’s in-house tax experts during posted business hours. This is different from the Tax Pro Review service, as these experts don’t directly alter your return and you’re not charged extra for their work. It’s worth noting that this feature used to be available at all price points, but was discontinued for lower-priced plans before the 2016 tax year.

3. Premium

The Premium plan, which costs $49.99 ($69.99 as the filing deadline approaches) for your federal return and $36.99 for each state return, is ideal for filers with significant investment income, and those with some self-employment income.

Premium includes everything that comes with the Deluxe plan, plus:

  • Support for Schedule C-EZ. If you’re a freelancer or independent contractor with substantial self-employment income, but minimal business expenses, you can likely file Schedule C-EZ (rather than the full Schedule C, which is more involved). Premium provides all the necessary forms and support to complete Schedule C-EZ. If you’re not sure whether you qualify as self-employed, check the IRS website.
  • Support for Schedule B. Filers with more than $1,500 in ordinary dividend or interest income generally need to file Schedule B. This version provides full support for doing so, including checks for appropriate credits and deductions.
  • Support for Schedule D. If you incurred capital gains or losses from the sale of securities, real property, and other assets, you likely need to file Schedule D. H&R Block Premium offers support and guidance for Schedule D filers.
  • Support for Schedule E. If you own and earn income from rental real estate and certain other sources, you’re likely required to file Schedule E. Premium offers full support for Schedule E filers, including all supplementary forms, and double-checks for credits and deductions.
  • Expense Importing from Compatible Apps. If you use a third-party app to keep track of tax-deductible personal or business expenses, this plan may allow you to import them automatically, without any need for manual entry. Check H&R Block’s website to confirm that your app is eligible.

4. Self-Employed

The Self-Employed plan is ideal for business owners, landlords, the self-employed, and others with complex tax situations. Unincorporated sole proprietors and solopreneurs with formal legal business structures are both welcome to use Self-Employed.

It costs $79.99 (for a limited time – regularly $104.99) for your federal return and $36.99 for each state.

The Self-Employed plan comes with all the features and functions of the Premium plan, plus:

  • Support for Schedule C. If you own your own business or have substantial income from business activities and valuable business deductions to match, you’re likely required to file Schedule C. The Premium plan provides all the support necessary to do so, including double-checks for all applicable credits and deductions.
  • Support for Rideshare Operator Income. If you work part-time or full-time as a rideshare app driver, you need to upgrade to this plan, even if you’d normally be able to report your income on Schedule C-EZ.
  • Support for Partnership and Trust Income (Schedule K-1). If you earned income from a partnership, trust, or S-corporation, you’re likely required to file Schedule K-1. H&R Block’s Premium version provides all necessary support for this.
  • Business Expense and Reporting Tools. This plan has a nice set of business expense-tracking and reporting tools that don’t require third-party integrations. The BusinessPartner app shows popular business deductions; the Business Booster app is designed specifically to track startup expenses; and the Business Snapshot tool displays tax-relevant business information in a single dashboard.

5. Tax Pro Review

H&R Block’s Tax Pro Review plan is basically a hybrid version of Self-Employed. You can pause your online return at specific “checkpoints” (usually between sections of the return) and have your work reviewed or changed by an in-house tax professional without schlepping to an H&R Block office.

The fee for Tax Pro Review is $119.99 for your federal return and $36.99 per state return. Given the cost and inclusions — every Self-Employed form and schedule is available here — it’s appropriate primarily for filers who don’t entirely trust themselves to manage complex tax situations.

6. Tax Pro Go

Tax Pro Go is a remote tax prep service that taps H&R Block’s army of certified tax professionals. It’s far more hands-off than H&R Block’s DIY software offerings, and you can complete the entire process in the comfort of your own home, without ever setting foot in an H&R Block office.

Tax Pro Go pricing is customized based on the nature and complexity of your tax situation. Pricing starts at $49.99 for the most basic federal returns, with one state included. More complicated situations can cost well over $200, though. My price — I’m a married, self-employed homeowner with kids and investment accounts — was $329 for federal and one state.

Tax Pro Go is more process than package. The typical engagement unfolds sequentially:

  1. Onboarding Questions. You’re asked a few questions about your life and tax situation: marital status, dependents, income sources, investments, and so on. Based on your answers, you’re matched up with an H&R Block tax pro qualified to assist with tax situations like yours.
  2. Upfront Pricing. You’re shown the actual price you’ll pay for Tax Pro Go service upfront, before you continue with the process. As long as your situation isn’t materially different than your representations, your price won’t vary.
  3. Document Upload. You’ll then upload every document necessary to complete your return. You don’t have to upload everything at once, so you can start early in the season and return multiple times to the upload interface as documents trickle in.
  4. Tax Pro Consultation. Once the upload is complete, your tax pro contacts you for a verbal consultation. You’ll go over the particulars of your tax situation and discuss any curveballs that might not be obvious from the material you’ve provided. Following the consultation, you can use a secure messaging system if and when you need to follow up with your tax pro.
  5. Return Preparation. Your tax pro prepares your return within five business days. You’ll receive a draft copy of your return with detailed explanations of credits, deductions, and other items. Take the opportunity to review everything and don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions if there’s anything you don’t understand.
  6. Payment and E-File. As soon as you sign off on your return, you’ll be prompted to pay your agreed-upon prep fees by electronic financial transfer, credit card, or refund draw (which incurs an extra fee). You’ll receive IRS notification once your return is accepted. If you’re entitled to a refund, you’ll receive it in due course.

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Additional Features

In addition to its paid plans, H&R Block includes the following noteworthy features and add-ons for all customers:

Free Chat Support

All H&R Block customers have free and unlimited live chat access to technical support staff capable of answering basic questions about the service and helping with troubleshooting. The live chat feature is operational during extended business hours in Central Time. Check H&R Block’s website for exact operating hours and availability.

Real-Time Refund Updates and Explanations

As you prepare your return, you may notice that the amount of your federal refund – visible on the left sidebar – fluctuates with each new piece of information entered. These updates occur in real-time and come with detailed explanations as to why they’ve changed, a useful feature if you want to learn more about how taxes work.

Create Your Account Later

H&R Block allows you to begin preparing your tax return without actually creating an H&R Block account. You still have to create one before you file and pay, or if you want to be able to save your return, exit, and come back later.

In-Person Audit Support

H&R Block offers free, in-person audit support to all filers, regardless of plan. Support is available at your local office and includes reviewing and interpreting notices, recommending and helping you gather documents to respond to an audit, reviewing audit findings, and offering advice on how to respond (including how to appeal, though H&R Block’s free audit support doesn’t include appeals).

If you didn’t prepare your return with H&R Block, this service is available for a fee (which varies by office). Check H&R Block’s in-person audit support page for more information.

Pay With Your Refund

H&R Block allows you to pay for its tax preparation services with your federal or state refunds, eliminating the need to pay upfront when you file. There’s a processing fee of $39.99 to pay your federal filing fees with your federal refund. Check the website for up-to-date information about the cost of paying state filing fees with your state refund.

As you can see, the convenience of paying your tax prep fees out of your anticipated refund comes at a steep price. If you’re looking for a cheaper option to avoid an immediate hit to your bank balance, consider paying your tax prep fees with a credit card. Check out our list of the top cash back credit cards and travel rewards credit cards to maximize your return on this inevitable expense.

Prepaid Debit Card Refund

H&R Block lets you receive your refund as an Emerald Prepaid Mastercard, a reloadable prepaid debit card. Once you’ve spent your refund, you can continue to reload the card and use it as you would any other Mastercard-branded payment card. Fees for reloading, ATM withdrawals, and other activities may apply, but there’s no setup fee or monthly maintenance fee.

Refund Bonus

When you elect to receive your tax refund on an Amazon gift card, you’re eligible to receive a 5% bonus on your total refund balance: $25 on a $500 refund, and so on. There’s no bonus for refunds received via direct deposit, credit against quarterly estimated tax payments, or any other method.

Advantages

1. More Affordable Than Some Alternatives
H&R Block offers a great mix of affordability and comprehensive service. Though the Free version isn’t able to handle complex tax situations, the Deluxe and Premium versions certainly can – at a lower cost than the comparable TurboTax plan. While H&R Block isn’t as cheap as some “value” competitors, its robust suite of add-on services is worth the added expense for many taxpayers.

2. Free, In-Person Audit Support Inspires Confidence
H&R Block is underpinned by a network of about 10,000 physical tax preparation franchises. If you receive a request for clarification or formal audit notice from the IRS, the company makes its tax professionals available to assist you for free – regardless of the plan you used or whether you filed online. This audit support system is far more robust than many of H&R Block’s competitors, including TurboTax (which charges $39.99 for in-person support) and Taxct (which also requires you to pay for audit support and doesn’t arrange in-person meetings).

3. No Need to Create an Account Right Away
H&R Block’s Create Your Account Later feature is the closest I’ve seen an online tax software program get to offering the guest checkout options that are commonplace at online retailers. While you can’t actually complete your return without creating a username and password (not to mention giving H&R Block your contact information), this feature makes it easier to “try before you buy” without putting as much skin in the game. Other tax filing programs, including TaxAct and TurboTax, make account creation a prerequisite to begin your return.

4. You Can Pay With Your Federal and State Refunds
H&R Block allows you to pay both your federal and state tax prep fees with your respective refunds. This means that you don’t have to pay for any of its services upfront, which can be convenient if cash is tight and you’re relying on your tax refund to see you through. Other tax prep programs, including TaxAct, don’t allow you to pay with your state refund.

5. Easy Access to Physical Branches
Audit support isn’t the only reason you might want to walk into a physical H&R Block branch. If your situation is more complicated than you anticipated and you’re not confident enough to complete your return on your own, your nearest H&R Block shop probably isn’t far. And if you have a question or concern during the filing process, you can pick up the phone and call someone who lives and works nearby – not an overworked customer service specialist in a faceless call center somewhere. TurboTax, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer all lack the personal touch that comes with physical outposts.

6. Tax Pro Review Is Convenient for Busy Filers
If you want the peace of mind that you can only get from having a professional human review and/or prepare your tax return, but don’t have the time or scheduling flexibility to bring your documents into a physical H&R Block office, H&R Block’s Tax Pro Review service is right up your alley. For an additional fee that won’t be higher than H&R Block’s in-person prep fee (and will likely be less), Tax Pro Review entitles your return to comprehensive professional review and editing. It’s ideal for busy people whose tax situations are more complicated than they initially appear.

7. Robust Importing from Other Tax Prep Programs
Once upon a time, H&R Block only allowed prior-year return importing from two external programs: TaxAct and TurboTax. If you were a previous customer, you could also import prior-year information from H&R Block itself. Needless to say, despite these three programs’ popularity, this disadvantaged millions of filers who used other online prep programs.

Not anymore. In time for the 2016 tax year, H&R Block expanded its importing capabilities to include most common file formats, and therefore virtually all online tax prep programs. So, no matter where you filed last year, there’s a good chance you can switch to H&R Block without manually re-entering all your data.

8. Improved Website Interface
H&R Block’s online interface hasn’t always been the most user-friendly of the tax prep bunch, but it’s come a long way. I’ll go so far as to say that H&R Block won “most improved online interface” for the 2017 tax year, and it looks even better in 2018. The actual prep portal is visually appealing and more intuitive than in past years, while the website delivers exquisite detail without overwhelming or confusing users. If functionality issues scared you off of H&R Block in past years, it’s time to take another look.

9. Tax Pro Go Is a Great Alternative to In-Office Prep
H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go debuted for the 2017 tax year and expanded in time for 2018 tax season. It’s a great option for filers who lack the time and inclination to pursue DIY tax prep or in-office appointments, but want the peace of mind that comes with a professionally prepared return. And it’s not much more expensive than DIY tax prep. If you value your time and can handle the added expense, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t want to use Tax Pro Go – particularly if your situation is complex.

Disadvantages

1. Paying With Your Refund Can Be Expensive
Though it’s convenient that you can pay for H&R Block’s tax prep services with your refund(s), it doesn’t come cheap. H&R Block charges a $39.95 processing fee when you pay for your federal and state return in this manner. (Though, to be fair, H&R Block no longer charges a separate fee to pay your state prep fees with your state refund.)

This is stiffer than most other tax prep programs’ pay-with-return fees. If you can’t or don’t want to pay out of pocket right then and there, consider paying your prep fees with a cash back credit card. When you pay your balance off on time and in full, you’ll actually make money on the deal.

2. May Require You to Make Some Important Decisions on Your Own or Upgrade to a Hybrid Plan
H&R Block’s interview process isn’t quite as thorough as some alternatives. Depending on your situation, it may present you with some general information and ask you to make a potentially important decision on your own – as opposed to evaluating your situation based on your answers to specific questions, and then suggesting a course of action.

For instance, during a previous tax year, I indicated in the questionnaire that I’d recently been married. To my dismay, I was only presented with a brief primer on my options for filing status (e.g. file together, file separately, head of household). While informative, it wasn’t comprehensive enough for me to use to make an informed decision and a couple of the points were confusing.

By contrast, when you tell TurboTax about a life change, the program asks you several relevant questions before presenting you with a recommendation. This approach takes the guesswork out of weighty considerations, such as filing status and itemizing deductions.

You can get around this issue by adding Tax Pro Review or upgrading to Tax Pro Go, both of which bring expert tax preparers into the picture. However, both choices add substantially to the final cost of your return.

3. Limitations to Navigation Within Your Return
H&R Block’s interview process and navigation system may be too methodical for experienced filers. Once you begin your return, you can’t skip over sections that don’t pertain to your tax situation. Instead, you have to answer each question in order before moving on to the next section. Only after you complete a particular part of your return can you navigate back (or forward) to it without going through all the intervening interview questions again. Again, you can get around this issue by upgrading your plan, if you’re willing to pay accordingly.

4. Tax Pro Go Is Really Pricey
Tax Pro Go is very convenient for busy filers who can’t be bothered to prep their own returns, and taxpayers overwhelmed by the complexity of their situations. But let’s be honest about what it is: a remote alternative to working directly with a CPA or EA in an H&R Block office or independently owned tax prep shop.

If you expect to save serious money with Tax Pro Go, you’re likely to be disappointed. In fact, for my own personal situation, Tax Pro Go is marginally more expensive than working with an independent CPA.

Final Word

Choosing an online tax preparation program isn’t a decision to make lightly. Whether you’re in line for a refund or know you’ll owe some money to the IRS or state treasury, you’re undoubtedly concerned about minimizing your tax liability. And if you have a complicated tax situation, you need to avoid making major mistakes or omissions on your return – which could raise your risk of an audit.

H&R Block has a lot of great features, a long track record, and a well-known brand behind it. But it’s not the only choice out there. Before settling on your final choice, take some time to review as many options as possible.

For more options, check out our full list of Top-Rated Free Online Tax Preparation Services.

Verdict
4.3 / 5
Rating

Start Your Taxes Now

H&R Block Online Tax Software

H&R Block occupies a nice middle ground between programs like TurboTax, which is hands-on, user-friendly, and expensive, and TaxSlayer or TaxAct, which are both cheaper and more DIY-friendly.

Moderate prices, in-person support (and physical offices), an improved website interface, increasingly robust options for DIY filers who need some extra assistance, and flexible payment options are all nice perks. However, time-consuming navigation can be frustrating, the preparation interview may require guesswork or interpretation, and importing capabilities from other programs are limited.

H&R Block is generally affordable and easy to use, with flexible payment options and great in-person support. However, add-on fees (such as refund processing) are annoying, as are shoddy importing capabilities.

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.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

Comments Disclosure: The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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