At a glance
- CPA Involvement: Not directly; some expert assistance in higher-priced plans
- Federal Plans: Simply Free — free, best for those with simple tax situations (basic 1040); Classic — $24.95, best for moderately complex situations; Premium — $44.95, best for most complex situations; Self-Employed — $54.95, includes Premium features plus additional assistance for self-employed filers (prices are subject to change at any time during tax season and may increase as the filing deadline approaches)
- State Returns Included: Yes; one free state return with Simply Free; $39.95 per state return for all other plans
- Pay With Your Refund: Yes, for an additional processing fee
- Audit Defense: IRS audit assistance for three full years with Premium and Self-Employed
- Mobile Capabilities: Yes; Android and iOS apps with extensive functionality plus mobile-responsive website
TaxSlayer doesn’t blow competition like TurboTax and H&R Block out of the water, but it’s superior in several crucial ways. Most notably, it’s cheaper than many better-known alternatives. If cost is a critical consideration in your choice of an online tax prep program, that’s a huge selling point.
Regardless of your selected plan, TaxSlayer is quite flexible. It allows you to complete the required forms and schedules with minimal guidance — or with the help of an “I want to be guided” wizard that emulates more hands-on programs like H&R Block and TurboTax if you prefer. If you need help with some parts of your return but not others, you can use the wizard only for those trickier sections.
Importantly, TaxSlayer one-ups many competitors’ accuracy guarantees, which often apply only to federal returns. If you’re hit with a federal or state penalty or interest charge attributable to a TaxSlayer software calculation error, TaxSlayer refunds it without limit.
But there’s a lot more to know about this discount tax prep program.
TaxSlayer Plans, Pricing, and Features
TaxSlayer offers four main tax preparation plans: Simply Free, Classic, Premium, and Self-Employed. It also provides a separate Military package for active-duty filers, who must receive a W-2 from an employer identification number related to the military or Department of Defense to qualify. The Military version includes a free federal return with all federal forms and applies to all tax situations.
As a new TaxSlayer filer, you must choose your package when you begin the filing process. If you attempt to do something the plan you chose doesn’t support, the software prompts you to upgrade.
Final pricing is set when you e-file and is subject to change without notice as tax season wears on, so your initial quote might rise by the time you complete your return. Plan accordingly.
For all packages, TaxSlayer’s system offers you a choice between a guided, interview-style wizard that walks you through the preparation process step by step and a self-guided platform that lets you choose which forms and sections to complete and when. You can navigate between the wizard and the self-guided system at will, which is helpful if you’re confident enough to fill out some sections on your own but feel you need assistance with others.
This plan provides your federal return and your first state return for free. Each subsequent state return costs $39.95.
Simply Free is inappropriate for freelancers, small-business owners, solopreneurs, or those who earn foreign income. It does make allowances for common situations like reporting student loan interest and education expenses. But Simply Free lacks many of the support features and useful functions of higher-priced plans, so it may not be ideal for tax-filing novices or those who wish to complete their returns as quickly and smoothly as possible.
- Prior-Year PDF Importing. This plan allows you to import prior-year tax returns from other tax prep programs as long as they’re saved in a PDF format. You can’t directly import prior-year information from another program, including TaxSlayer, with the Simply Free version, though you can keep your previous TaxSlayer return as a PDF.
- Deduction Finder. This plan has a handy deduction guide (Deduction Finder) that follows along with your return and prompts you to enter all applicable deductions — a nice way to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities to save.
- Free Phone and Email Support. TaxSlayer provides complimentary phone and email support to all customers during tax season. Email support is definitely the preferred contact method. TaxSlayer has grown increasingly protective of its limited phone support resources in recent years. Expect a phone response during weekday business hours, with extended hours subject to change as tax season wears on. Emailed inquiries can take up to 72 hours to produce a response.
- Maximum Refund Guarantee. All TaxSlayer plans come with a maximum refund guarantee. If you find that another tax prep company offers you a bigger refund (or smaller tax obligation) than TaxSlayer for an identical return, TaxSlayer agrees to refund all your tax prep fees. You don’t have to file with the other company to get a refund. You just need to show the refund or obligation amount it offers.
This plan costs $24.95 for your federal tax return and $39.95 for each state tax return. It includes support for all major IRS tax forms, meaning it’s appropriate for tax situations of all complexities — including investors, rental property owners, and small-business owners.
TaxSlayer Classic also includes some features and functions unavailable with the free options, making it ideal for filers in search of a fast, smooth tax preparation option.
Classic comes with all the features of the free option, plus:
- Prior-Year Importing and Comparisons. If you filed last year’s return with TaxSlayer, you can import data from it. As you fill out your return, the program shows you relevant entries, such as income, deductions, and credits, from the previous year, allowing you to judge the accuracy of your current-year entries.
- W-2 Importing. You can import electronic W-2s in PDF format with this plan.
This plan costs $44.95 for your federal return and $39.95 for each state return. Its support features are significantly more robust than lower-priced plans, so it’s definitely a solid choice for novice filers or those who lack the confidence or knowledge to navigate a complicated situation on their own.
Premium includes all the features of lower-priced plans, plus:
- Live Chat Support. Premium customers have access to a Web-based live chat feature that’s operational at the height of tax season (early January through Tax Day). You can access live chat during TaxSlayer’s posted phone support hours: 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday (all times Eastern). These hours are subject to change as tax season advances.
- Priority Phone and Email Support. Premium customers also get priority support for emailed and called-in queries. All communication from Premium customers gets pushed to the front of the line, ahead of communication from Simply Free and Classic customers. That substantially reduces hold and wait times, though TaxSlayer doesn’t say by exactly how much.
- Ask a Tax Pro. You can ask unlimited questions of TaxSlayer’s in-house tax professionals over the phone or by email. Since some questions may require research, phone responses may not be instantaneous (once you call in and ask your question, it can take one business day for a TaxSlayer employee to get back to you). Ask a Tax Pro is useful if you encounter an issue TaxSlayer’s wizards or onsite help functions can’t resolve. However, TaxSlayer stresses that all information provided by its tax professionals is general in nature and should not be construed as tax advice.
- Federal Audit Assistance for Free. TaxSlayer’s federal audit assistance package, which it claims is worth $29, is available to Premium customers at no extra charge for three years from your filing date. But it doesn’t include support for audits or other issues relating to Schedule C or K filings.
This plan costs $54.95 for your federal tax return and $39.95 for each state tax return. Its support features are even more impressive than the Premium plan’s, with extra support and hand-holding for self-employed filers and solopreneurs.
Self-Employed includes everything in the Premium plan, plus:
- Access to Self-Employment Tax Professionals. TaxSlayer’s self-employment tax professionals are distinct from its primary tax support team. If you have a question about your Schedule C filing or any uncertainty about the business tax deductions for which you might be eligible, they can help.
- Self-Employment Tax Tips and Reminders. This plan’s interface includes reminders and tips for self-employed filers. There’s no need to hunt for answers in the help database.
TaxSlayer has some other features and functions available to all filers, regardless of plan level.
Pay Prep Fees With Your Refund
TaxSlayer allows all customers to deduct TaxSlayer’s prep fees, including those for state returns, from their federal income tax refunds. There’s an additional processing fee associated with this option. Check with TaxSlayer for details.
TaxSlayer has a pretty elaborate Web-based tax refund calculator that allows you to enter much of the information you’d include on your return — filing status, personal income, profit or loss from a business, standard or itemized deductions, and credits — and receive an estimate of your federal refund or the amount you owe. You can enter as much or as little as you like, but a complete accounting ensures a more accurate number.
You don’t have to be a member to use this calculator, so it’s a convenient way to estimate your refund or tax obligation before you begin your return in earnest.
Mobile Apps and Functionality
TaxSlayer offers Android and iOS apps for download. These are functionally identical to the regular website and include value-added features, such as the on-site refund calculator. TaxSlayer’s regular website is already quite mobile-friendly, so while the app is a nice option to have, it’s not strictly necessary.
TaxSlayer has a well-maintained, searchable knowledge base with a comprehensive range of help topics.
TaxSlayer’s most notable advantages are its affordability and convenient tools that help taxpayers customize their experience.
1. Paid Plans Are More Affordable Than Some Competitors’ Comparable Options
In addition to a comprehensive free option, TaxSlayer users enjoy moderately priced paid plans. The most expensive option, Self-Employed, charges just $54.95 for federal filing and $39.95 per state.
By contrast, TurboTax charges about $100 to well over $300 for CPA-assisted plans capable of handling more complex tax situations plus $50 or more per state return.
2. Choice Between Guided Wizard and Self-Preparation
TaxSlayer has a flexible interface that lets you choose how you complete your return. If you have a simple tax situation or can tackle a more complex return on your own, you can use TaxSlayer’s self-guided forms and schedules, which provide minimal support and guidance.
If you’re not sure whether a particular situation applies to you (for example, whether you should itemize deductions or claim the standard deduction), you can take advantage of TaxSlayer’s guided wizard, which asks interview-style questions and provides explanations along the lines of hands-on tax prep programs like TurboTax and H&R Block.
Regardless of your chosen plan level, you can move between the wizard and self-guided interface as needed and fill out different sections of your form in whatever order you choose.
3. Powerful Refund Calculator
TaxSlayer’s refund calculator is quite comprehensive, almost like a mini-return you don’t have to pay for. If you want to get a sense of how big your refund or obligation will be before completing and paying for your return, this feature is ideal.
TaxSlayer’s calculator also guides you step by step through each relevant item, making it easier to use than the less user-friendly calculators issued by TurboTax and TaxAct.
4. Strong Mobile Resources
TaxSlayer’s website and prep program are among the most mobile-friendly, rivaling TurboTax’s for ease of use and navigation. Its mobile apps are also quite powerful, with most of the features and functions of the regular website. You truly can “file from any device,” as TaxSlayer claims.
5. Accuracy Guarantee Includes Federal and State Returns
TaxSlayer’s accuracy guarantee promises to reimburse filers for federal and state penalties and interest attributable to software calculation errors. That’s a significant advantage relative to some competing services, which only offer accuracy guarantees on federal returns.
While TaxSlayer provides a lot of bang for your buck, paying such low prices means living without certain perks you’d get from other tax preparation software providers.
1. No Audit Support for Lower-Priced Plans and Certain Filers
You need to upgrade past the Simply Free plan to get free audit support, which includes an over-the-phone consultation with an in-house tax professional who can answer any questions about correspondence you receive from the IRS or state revenue agencies.
2. No Refund Bonus
TaxSlayer doesn’t offer a refund bonus — you always receive the exact value of your federal refund, no more. By contrast, H&R Block offers a refund bonus of up to 5% of the total refund when you agree to receive at least $100 of it as an Amazon gift card.
3. Customer Support Isn’t as Robust as Some Other Programs
TaxSlayer has free phone and email support for everyone, but its customer support system has several disadvantages: restricted operating hours, lack of a user-curated help center (such as TurboTax’s AnswerXchange), and a two-tiered priority support system that pushes Simply Free and Classic customers to the back of the line when Premium customers need help. Also, online live chat is only available to Premium customers.
By contrast, H&R Block’s phone, email, and live chat support — including 24-hour support during tax season — is available to all customers, regardless of package. And H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 physical offices that offer in-person support, something TaxSlayer can’t provide.
4. Website Has Some Lingering Functionality Issues
No website is perfect, but in the past, TaxSlayer’s has had enough errors and functionality issues to impact the user experience. Though the return preparation process is generally smooth, I’ve encountered page-not-found errors in TaxSlayer’s help database before.
A couple of years back, I was directed to a particularly egregious missing page from the site’s main navigation bar, though the issue appears to be fixed now. And I’ve experienced several timeouts when navigating to TaxSlayer pages from search engine results pages.
I expect TaxSlayer to address these lingering issues as time goes on, and they’re fewer and farther between these days. Still, their existence is befuddling. By contrast, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with H&R Block’s tax prep interface.
Few people enjoy preparing and filing their taxes, but not everyone has the same relationship with the IRS, state revenue authorities, and their tax preparer.
If your tax situation is simple and straightforward, your highest priorities are likely to be filling out your return as quickly and cheaply as possible and maximizing your refund. If your situation is more complicated, avoiding an audit is likely to be a major concern.
Though TaxSlayer isn’t perfect, it offers opportunities for taxpayers at both ends of the spectrum, often at a lower cost than the competition. If you’ve been filing with a better-known program like H&R Block or TurboTax, it may be time to give TaxSlayer a closer look.
With an interface that lets you choose how much guidance you receive, a powerful refund calculator, and more affordable pricing than competitors with better brand recognition, TaxSlayer offers a great value.
But TaxSlayer asks users to make some trade-offs relative to more expensive, better-known tax prep options. For example, there’s no free audit support with the free plan, and customer support is generally limited (though higher-priced plans are somewhat better). Plus, the website has a few functionality issues that may give you pause.
That said, with a flexible interface, powerful refund calculator, and affordable pricing, TaxSlayer is a low-cost option for most filers.