Jackson Hewitt is a well-known tax preparation service that helps millions of Americans prepare and file their taxes each year. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a Jackson Hewitt storefront office in your town – there are several thousand outposts spread around the United States.
You’re probably less familiar with Jackson Hewitt Online, the company’s online tax prep and filing service. Jackson Hewitt Online offers tax preparation assistance for taxpayers in a wide range of circumstances, from simple situations that can be completed with Form 1040EZ or 1040A, to more complicated scenarios involving investments, business income, and itemized deductions. The most complex situations are best handled in person.
With three tax preparation packages, Jackson Hewitt Online is decently priced overall – though early-season specials offer real value. Its 100% free version, which covers one federal and one state return, is good enough to contend for our list of the top free online tax preparation services. Higher-priced plans accommodate progressively more complex situations. Each plan’s capabilities resemble those of comparable to well-known competitors, including Turbo Tax, H&R Block, Liberty Online, and TaxAct.
Jackson Hewitt underwent a pretty thorough revamp between the 2016 and 2017 tax years. Even if you’re a returning customer, it’s worth taking a moment to review the new plan structure and determine whether Jackson Hewitt is still the best choice for you.
The Jackson Hewitt Online Process
Jackson Hewitt Online defaults to interview-style preparation. This is ideal for those unfamiliar with the tax preparation process or facing complicated situations that require lots of forms and schedules. On the other hand, it’s a bit longer than a pure DIY approach.
If you’re more comfortable with tax preparation, you can pick and choose which sections to complete. In places, you can fill out forms essentially as they appear on the IRS’s website, though in most cases you’ll need to run through sets of sequential questions to complete a section or form.
Be warned, though: If you start doing something that your current package doesn’t support (for instance, entering information about stock sales in the Free Edition), you’ll automatically be bumped up into the appropriate plan without any notification. To avoid sticker shock come filing time, carefully compare each package’s inclusions before you begin preparing your return and line them up with your situation.
Moving Through the Interface
You don’t have to complete your return sequentially from start to finish. You can jump between sections – income, dependents, credits and deductions, and so on – at will. This adds flexibility, particularly if you’re more comfortable with some aspects of a complicated return, and less so with others. You can save and exit incomplete sections or forms at any time too, though you’ll be prompted to complete them if you attempt to file without returning.
Office Preparation vs. Online Preparation
Jackson Hewitt Online’s interface is smooth and user-friendly. It’s also extremely mobile-friendly, with large text, big fields, and ample spacing between items.
Despite this, Jackson Hewitt does push online filers to bring their returns into a Jackson Hewitt office. While you can certainly consider filing in-person if your situation becomes too complex to do on your own, office preparation typically costs more than online preparation.
Plans, Pricing & Features
Jackson Hewitt Online has three distinct tax prep plans. Oddly, Jackson Hewitt Online appears not to name its plans, so I’m compensating with straightforward plan names using language found on Jackson Hewitt’s website. I can’t say for sure what the company calls each plan internally, though.
1. Free Edition
Jackson Hewitt Online’s Free edition is one of the few free tax filing options that’s actually 100% free – federal and state returns cost nothing to prepare here.
However, this version is only appropriate for the simplest of tax situations: basically, only those that can be completed with IRS Form 1040EZ. You can claim the Earned Income Tax Credit with this plan only if you have no children – otherwise, you need to upgrade. Filers who need to itemize their deductions or claim more than $1,500 in interest income also need to upgrade. So do those claiming more than $100,000 in taxable income.
The Free Edition’s features and functions include:
- W-2 Importing. You can import your W-2 directly into Jackson Hewitt’s online filing system, rather than manually enter the data contained on it.
- Prior Year Return Importing. If you prepared last year’s tax return with Jackson Hewitt Online or at a Jackson Hewitt storefront, you can import it into your current year return. You can’t import returns from competitors, unfortunately.
- Email & Phone Support. Jackson Hewitt offers free phone support during regular (Eastern Time) business hours. The email support feature is available 24/7, though after-hours queries can take up to 24 hours to produce a response. Email and live phone support is suitable for technical issues with your return and basic tax questions. More complex questions are best directed toward a branch office. Branch offices are open during regular business hours earlier in the season, and later during crunch time.
- Earned Income Tax Credit Without Dependents. This edition allows you to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and file Schedule EIC without dependents. If you have dependents, you need to upgrade to the Families and Retirees plan.
- Secure Storage and Access. Jackson Hewitt Online stores your current and prior-year tax returns in a secure digital locker. You’re permitted to access prior-year returns whenever you like, at no additional charge.
This edition costs $29.99 for your federal return (rising later in the tax season) and $36.99 for each state.
This edition is suitable for people with only slightly complicated tax situations, including filers who need to account for student loan interest or claim the Earned Income Tax Credit with dependents. Like the free plan, it’s not appropriate for filers claiming more than $100,000 in taxable income.
This edition comes with all the features and functions found in the Free Edition, plus:
- Student Loan Interest Deduction. This edition allows you to deduct student loan interest from your taxable income, subject to the IRS’s $2,500 maximum benefit.
- Earned Income and Child Tax Credit. This edition allows you to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and file Schedule EIC with dependents. You can claim other dependent care expenses here as well.
- Retirement Income. You can claim retirement income, such as Social Security payments, distributions from IRA and 401(k) accounts, and other sources of post-work pay.
- Itemized Deductions. This edition allows you to itemize your deductions using Schedule A.
This edition costs $49.95 for your federal return (rising as tax season wears on) and $36.99 for each state. This price point is a bargain compared with comparable in-person service, where complex state and federal returns can easily cost $250 or more to prepare.
Complex Returns is appropriate for most filers not covered by the two lower-priced plans, including those with substantial self-employment and small business income, capital gains, rental income, and other more complex and less common tax situations. Though it can support most situations, use caution if this is your first time self-prepping a complex return, as there’s not a ton of guidance on offer here. You may want to go ahead and complete your return in a Jackson Hewitt office instead.
This edition comes with all the bells and whistles of the lower-priced versions, plus:
- Investment & Interest Income. This edition allows you to claim capital gains and losses from the sale of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other securities. It also allows you to claim interest and ordinary dividend income greater than $1,500.
- Income from Real Estate Sales. If you sold your home during the tax year, this edition allows you to claim resultant capital gains or losses (if required).
- Business Income & Deductions. This edition includes support for self-employed professionals and small business owners, including those who need to file Schedule C (profit or loss from a business) and Schedule K-1 (profit or loss from a partnership or S-corporation). It also includes support for business-related tax deductions and credits, including the home office deduction.
- Rental Property Income. The Premium Edition includes support for Schedule E filers – people who own and earn income from rental property.
- Farming Income. This edition includes support for Schedule F filers – farmers and people who earn income from farmland.
- Less Common Situations. This is a catchall term for filers with less common sources of income. Again, this edition supports just about any tax situation, but the lack of guidance should give less experienced filers pause.
Jackson Hewitt Online has some additional features worth noting.
Maximum Refund Guarantee
Like most competitors, Jackson Hewitt Online has a maximum refund guarantee. Filers who receive larger federal refunds (or smaller federal tax liabilities) from identical returns filed with competitors are entitled to full tax prep fee refunds.
Jackson Hewitt Online extends an accuracy guarantee to all filers, including those on the free plan. If the IRS hits you with a tax penalty or interest charge attributable to a Jackson Hewitt software calculation error, you’re entitled to full reimbursement from Jackson Hewitt.
Jackson Hewitt Online has a support database that covers most major topics related to tax preparation in general and Jackson Hewitt Online’s system in particular. The content is generated by Jackson Hewitt staff, not users (as is the case with some competitors). Most major topics are covered, though the treatment isn’t as exhaustive as some competitors’ help databases. Some important topics are absent or difficult to find, in fact.
Jackson Hewitt Online has several useful tax calculators, including a general calculator that helps you determine your overall tax liability, a calculator that helps determine whether you’re eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a calculator that helps determine whether you’re subject to self-employment tax.
Here’s what Jackson Hewitt Online has going for it.
1. Free Edition Is 100% Free
Jackson Hewitt Online is one of the few online tax prep programs that has a truly free version – its Free edition is free for both state and federal tax returns. That’s a significant advantage over the misleadingly named FreeTaxUSA’s “free” version, which charges for each state return.
2. Comes With Physical Branch Access
Jackson Hewitt Online is backed by more than 6,000 physical Jackson Hewitt branches across the United States. If your tax situation overwhelms you during the filing process, or you simply decide you don’t want to spend the time and energy necessary to complete your return on your own, you can always take your partially completed paperwork to your local Jackson Hewitt office. In fact, Jackson Hewitt Online regularly encourages filers to make this switch, and the process for doing so is pretty smooth – though filing in person typically involves higher fees.
3. Most Site Features Are Mobile-Friendly
By and large, Jackson Hewitt Online has a mobile-friendly website and preparation system. This aspect of Jackson Hewitt Online has improved markedly since the 2016 tax year, when the help interface was a hodgepodge of new and old content, some of which was laughably difficult to navigate. Though the general trend is mobile-friendly, some lower-priced services remain desktop-first.
4. Can Move Between Sections at Will
Jackson Hewitt Online allows you to go back and forth at will between sections of your tax return. This is a big advantage if you have a complex tax situation, as it makes it easier to prepare your return in sections as new information (for instance, 1099 forms from contract employers) become available. Some other platforms prevent filers from jumping ahead out of incomplete sections, even if they don’t have everything necessary to complete work right then.
Consider these drawbacks before signing up with Jackson Hewitt Online.
1. Lower-Priced Plans Have Limited Capabilities
Jackson Hewitt Online clusters its capabilities in the highest-priced plan. If you need to itemize your deductions, report investment income, or address any issues related to self-employment or business ownership, you need to upgrade all the way to the top – or, more to the point, complete your return and learn that you’ve automatically upgraded.
By the same token, only the simplest tax situations are appropriate for Jackson Hewitt Online’s Free edition – you can’t even claim the Earned Income Tax Credit with dependents on the Free edition, for example.
If you have dependents and want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, but don’t want to pay through the nose to do it, consider a lower-cost service like FreeTaxUSA (whose lowest-priced version includes most major forms and schedules) or TaxSlayer (whose second-cheapest plan includes most major forms and schedules). These services offer better value for more complicated tax situations as well.
2. Onsite Help Database Is Sub-par
Jackson Hewitt Online’s onsite support database has a lot of useful information about general tax issues and Jackson Hewitt’s online tax prep system, but it’s also missing some essential elements.
For starters, it lacks the user-generated content found in some competing online tax prep services’ help portals, such as TurboTax‘s peer resource portal. User-generated content, such as submitted questions about complicated or unusual issues, can be useful for addressing matters that come up during individual tax prep sessions. These issues don’t affect enough filers to get the attention they deserve from staff.
Perhaps more importantly, Jackson Hewitt Online’s help database isn’t as comprehensive as the database of some other services, including TurboTax and H&R Block. The system does an excellent job of explaining the topics that it does cover, but even some common issues are absent. I couldn’t find anything about prior-year returns, for instance – a fairly ordinary query
3. Not Ideal for Very Complex Situations That Require Support
Jackson Hewitt Online’s highest-priced plan offers access to most major forms and schedules, but it doesn’t provide lots of guidance (either in the tax prep interface itself or, as noted, in the help database) for unusual or uncommon issues. If you’re not comfortable preparing a complicated tax return from start to finish with minimal guidance, think twice about using Jackson Hewitt Online, even in guided interview mode. Instead, take Jackson Hewitt up on its offer and bring your return into a storefront location.
4. Can Be Bumped Into Costlier Plans Without Warning
As you work through your Jackson Hewitt Online return, you may find yourself bumped up into a higher-priced plan without realizing it. This is particularly likely to happen when you attempt to fill out an unsupported form in DIY mode. It’s frustrating the Jackson Hewitt Online doesn’t reliably deliver upgrade prompts, as most of its competitors do. And the site’s 2017 tax year redesign obfuscates even further, with no clear indication of plan status or pricing until checkout.
5. No Prior-Year Imports from Competitor Programs
Jackson Hewitt doesn’t allow you to import prior-year tax return information from competing tax prep programs, only Jackson Hewitt Online itself. This is a major time-waster for new customers. TurboTax and H&R Block both allow prior-year PDF imports – H&R Block with a simple drag-and-drop feature that takes roughly five seconds to execute.
6. State Returns Are Pricey
Aside from the Free edition’s state return, which costs nothing, Jackson Hewitt Online’s state returns are pricey: $36.95, regardless of plan. That’s more expensive than TaxAct and FreeTaxUSA, two reliable bargain competitors.
7. Thin Customer Support Options
Despite (or perhaps because of) Jackson Hewitt’s strong branch infrastructure, Jackson Hewitt Online has a pretty thin customer support apparatus. The best way to get in touch online is to use the email support ticket system in the prep interface. Phone support is only available during regular business hours, and it’s not appropriate for actual tax questions.
8. Automatic Upgrades Feel Underhanded
Jackson Hewitt clearly outlines three plans on its website. Its actual interface isn’t so obvious about it. I didn’t once receive an upgrade prompt as I worked through my 2017 return, despite completing forms that I knew beyond a doubt were only available in the highest-priced plan. Had I not known beforehand what I was signing up for, I would have been surprised to find out just how much Jackson Hewitt expected me to pay at filing.
Most competitors are more transparent. In fact, I can’t recall another tax prep program that doesn’t notify you when you trigger a higher-priced plan. It’s only polite, after all.
Cost-wise, Jackson Hewitt Online occupies a middle ground between budget-friendly, bare-bones online tax prep services like FreeTaxUSA and more expensive, full-service options like TurboTax. However, it has another big advantage that the majority of its online competitors can’t claim: a thousands-strong, coast-to-coast storefront tax preparation office network.
As Jackson Hewitt Online itself never fails to mention, these tax prep offices are always there if you become overwhelmed by your return, or decide you no longer have the time or energy to devote to DIY preparation. You’ll pay more for in-person preparation, of course – but that expense could well be worth the added peace of mind.