Although TaxSlayer doesn’t blow competition like TurboTax and H&R Block out of the water, it is superior in several important ways. Most notably, it’s cheaper than many better-known alternatives. If cost is an important consideration in your choice of an online tax prep program, that’s a huge selling point.
TaxSlayer used to have an impressive free version. However, that changed in the 2015 tax year, when TaxSlayer slimmed down the free plan, reducing its ability to handle complex tax situations. These days, it’s only suitable for filers who can complete their federal returns using IRS Form 1040-EZ.
Regardless of your selected plan, TaxSlayer is quite flexible. It allows you to complete the required forms and schedules with minimal guidance – or, if you prefer, with the help of a “wizard” that emulates more hands-on programs such as H&R Block and TurboTax. 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.
That said, there are some devils in TaxSlayer’s details. It’s not ideal for filers who like the security of a robust customer service apparatus or the ability to switch to in-person preparation if they get hopelessly stuck. And, if you’re concerned about security issues, TaxSlayer has some unusual quirks that could give you pause. Regardless, this program is worth a closer look before you pull the trigger on a better-known option.
Pricing, Plans & Features
TaxSlayer offers three main tax preparation plans: Simply Free, Classic, and Premium. It also provides a separate, totally-free Military package for active-duty filers, who must receive a W-2 from an EIN (employment identification number) related to the military or Department of Defense to qualify. The Military version is a no-cost version of the Classic package, with the primary difference being that it includes unlimited state returns for free. You choose your package when you begin the filing process. If you attempt to do something that isn’t supported by your current plan, you’re prompted to upgrade.
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 what forms and sections to complete and when. You can navigate back and forth between the wizard and the self-guided system at will, which is useful if you’re confident enough to fill out a particular section on your own but feel you need assistance with others.
1. Simply Free
This plan provides your federal return and your first state return for free. Each subsequent state return, if necessary, costs $22.
Before the 2015 tax year, Simply Free (and its predecessor, Free Basic) was suitable for tax situations of virtually any complexity, including cases involving itemized deductions, capital gains or losses from property sales, and small business issues. However, it’s now only appropriate for Form 1040-EZ filers – generally, people who earn the vast majority of their income from regular employment.
Moreover, Simply Free lacks many of the support features and useful functions of higher-priced plans, such as direct importing from a previous TaxSlayer return. 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 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 Guide. This plan has a handy deduction guide 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 between January 2nd and April 17th. Phone reps are available from 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm Saturday, and from 12pm to 5pm Sunday, all times Eastern. Emailed inquiries typically produce a response within 24 hours, but TaxSlayer advises that they can take up to 72 hours as the filing deadline approaches.
- Federal Audit Assistance. TaxSlayer’s in-house professionals provide Simply Free (and Classic) customers with federal audit support for a one-time fee of $28.99. Support includes an over-the-phone consultation during which customers can ask questions of TaxSlayer’s professionals. These professionals also review all IRS correspondence and advise on how to respond. Audit support is available for three years from your filing date. Note that this feature doesn’t include support for any state audit issues.
This plan costs $17 for your federal return and $22 for each state return. It includes support for all major IRS forms, meaning it’s appropriate for tax situations of all complexities – including investors, rental property owners, and small business owners. Classic also includes some features and functions that aren’t available with the Free package, making it ideal for filers in search of a fast, smooth tax preparation option.
Classic comes with all the features of the Free plan. Notably, Federal Audit Assistance (for an additional $28.99) doesn’t include support for state audit issues or audits relating to Schedule C or K filings, which can be completed with the Classic (and Premium) packages. This omission means that freelancers and small business owners, as well as those who earn foreign income, can’t rely on TaxSlayer for help if they’re audited.
It also includes the following:
- 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.
- Maximum Refund Guarantee. This plan comes 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 of your tax prep fees. You don’t have to file with the other company to get the refund – you just need to show the refund or obligation amount it offers.
- Ask a Tax Professional. For a one-time fee of $22, you can ask unlimited questions of TaxSlayer’s in-house tax professionals over phone or 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 Professional is useful if you encounter an issue that can’t be resolved by TaxSlayer’s wizards or onsite help functions. However, TaxSlayer stresses that all information provided by its tax professionals is general in nature and should not be construed as tax advice. Note that Ask a Tax Professional is not available to Simply Free users, even those willing to pay the $22 fee.
This plan costs $35 for your federal return and $22 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 these:
- Live Chat Support. Premium customers have access to an on-site live chat feature that’s operational at the height of tax season (early January through mid-April). 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).
- 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 Free and Classic customers. This substantially reduces hold and wait times, though TaxSlayer doesn’t say by exactly how much.
- Ask a Tax Professional for Free. The Ask a Tax Professional feature comes free with the Premium plan. The service is otherwise identical to the paid version available with the Classic package.
- Federal Audit Assistance for Free. TaxSlayer’s federal audit assistance package is available to Premium customers at no extra charge. Keep in mind, it doesn’t include support for audits or other issues relating to Schedule C or K filings.
TaxSlayer has some other features and functions available to all filers, regardless of plan level:
- Pay Prep Fees With Your Refund for Free. TaxSlayer allows all customers to deduct TaxSlayer’s prep fees, including those for state returns, from their federal refunds free of charge. Fees to do the same with other services can range as high as $34.99.
- Link to IRS Refund Tracker. You can access the IRS’s Refund Status system directly from TaxSlayer’s homepage, by clicking the “Where’s My Refund?” link in the bottom navigation bar.
- Refund Calculator. TaxSlayer has a pretty elaborate on-site 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 nice way to estimate your refund or tax obligation before you begin your return in earnest.
- Mobile Apps and Functionality. TaxSlayer offers Android and iPhone apps for download. These are functionally identical to the regular website and also 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 might not even be necessary.
- Knowledge Base. TaxSlayer has a well maintained, searchable knowledge base with a comprehensive range of help topics. There are also separate sections for issues related to the Affordable Care Act and recent federal tax law changes.
- TaxPerks Referral Program. TaxSlayer has a refer-a-friend program that lets you refer up to 10 new users by email after you file your return. Each referral earns TaxPerks points which are redeemable for gift cards. Program rules are subject to change, so check with TaxSlayer for exact terms and details.
1. Paid Plans Are More Affordable Than Comparable Options at Some Competitors
In addition to a comprehensive Free plan, TaxSlayer users enjoy moderately priced paid plans. The most expensive option, Premium, charges just $35 for a federal return and $22 per state. By contrast, H&R Block’s most expensive plan costs $74.99 for federal and $36.99 per state. TurboTax costs up to $114.99 for federal and up to $39.99 per state.
2. No Charge to Deduct Prep Fees From Your Refund
All TaxSlayer customers, even those using the Free version (who still need to pay for state returns), can deduct TaxSlayer’s prep fees from their federal refund without paying a processing fee. If you’re entitled to a federal refund, this is a big perk – it means you don’t have to take the extra step of entering your credit card or bank account information before you send off your return. Other services, such as TaxAct ($17.99) and TurboTax ($34.99), charge a pretty penny to pay with your refund.
3. Choice Between Guided Wizard and Self-Preparation
TaxSlayer has a flexible interface that lets you pick and 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 back and forth at will between the wizard and self-guided interface, and non-linearly between disparate sections of your return.
4. Powerful Refund Calculator
TaxSlayer’s refund calculator is quite comprehensive, almost like a mini-return that 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.
5. Strong Mobile Resources
TaxSlayer’s website and prep program are among the most mobile-friendly I’ve seen, 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. By contrast, TaxAct’s website and prep program aren’t as mobile-friendly.
6. 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.
1. No Maximum Refund Guarantee With the Free Version
Maximum refund guarantees are industry-standard in the tax prep business, and TaxSlayer is no exception. However, its maximum refund guarantee, which offers to refund your prep fees if you get a bigger refund with the same entered data at a competing tax prep service, doesn’t extend to its Free version. This is a pretty glaring omission. By contrast, TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct offer maximum refund guarantees with all packages, including free versions.
2. No Audit Support for Lower-Priced Plans and Certain Filers
Only TaxSlayer’s Premium plan features 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. To get audit support with a lower-priced plan, you need to pay a one-time fee of $28.99 or seek help from another source.
Also, TaxSlayer’s audit support function doesn’t provide any help for Schedule C or Schedule K filers, regardless of their plan. By contrast, H&R Block offers free audit support, including in-person consultation, for all customers and at all price points.
3. 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 up to 10% of the total refund (depending on the package you use) when you agree to receive at least $100 of it as a gift card from one or more online or brick-and-mortar retailers.
4. Customer Support Isn’t as Robust as Some Other Programs
TaxSlayer does have 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 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 the January-to-April 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.
5. Website Has Some Functionality Issues
No website is perfect, but TaxSlayer’s has enough errors and functionality issues to impact the user experience. Though the return preparation process was generally smooth for me, I encountered “page not found” errors in TaxSlayer’s help database. I was also directed to a particularly egregious missing page from the site’s main navigation bar. And I experienced several timeouts when navigating to TaxSlayer pages from search engine results pages.
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 in the past, maybe it’s time to give TaxSlayer a closer look.
For more options, check out our full list of Top-Rated Free Online Tax Preparation Services.