Pros / The software lets you import W-2’s as well as your previous year’s return.
Cons / Filing state returns is expensive.
Verdict / TurboTax is one of the easiest tax programs to use. It has a free filing option, but if you want to take advantage of deductions or tax credits, you’ll have to pay to file.
TurboTax is one of the biggest names in tax software, and after extensive testing our reviewers found it worthy of that status, naming it the best overall tax program. It’s easy to use, with intuitive tools that help you navigate the various complexities of the tax filing process. It has a free option, well suited for simple returns. We recommend using it if you’re just filing a basic 1040EZ or 1040A.
We tested the Deluxe version, which has tools to help you find deductions, tax credits and other ways to maximize your refund or minimize the amount you owe. Deluxe costs $39.99 to file. If you have investments or rental property, or business income and expenses, there are also versions available for those situations. State returns cost $39.99 to file, making this one of the most expensive options.
To test TurboTax we filled out a return using the same sample data we did for the other programs. What we look for when evaluating these programs is a clear way to navigate through, a system for notifying you of errors and showing where to correct them, clear guidance and help with questions, and an easy way to complete your state return.
Starting Your Return With TurboTax
This program begins by letting you import your previous year’s return. This will auto-populate a lot of your information and save you some time. You can also import your W-2, if it comes from one of the more than 1,000 partners of TurboTax. As you enter information, the program will tell you if you qualify for any deduction or credits. For example, when we entered information about dependents the program immediately notified us about deductions we were eligible for, as well as providing a quick explanation about why we qualified for it. Some programs, such as TaxAct and Jackson Hewitt don't offer this feature.
TurboTax also makes suggestions about deductions or credits you might be eligible for based on the information you’ve entered. If you want more details, each deduction or credit lets you click on it to learn more about how to qualify and the benefits of getting that credit. Each section of your return clearly identifies where you can get more specifics about your return.
TurboTax also has good tools for finding errors in your return. If you’ve made an error entering your information, a screen will appear prompting you to make a correction before moving on to the next step. There’s also a final review where TurboTax runs a complete check over both your state and federal returns to look for errors and see if there are any deductions or credits you missed.
It’s easy to backtrack and add or update a part of the return. The side navigation bar lets you move through your personal information and your federal and state returns. Once you choose one of those, you can move through and edit your income or deductions easily.
One drawback of TurboTax is that it’s one of the most aggressive upsellers we reviewed. After completing a section you’ll be prompted to purchase audit protection or ID theft protection.
This program supports all state returns, and once you’ve completed your federal return, it will automatically fill out your state return for you. The only steps you’ll need to take are to answer some state-specific questions to determine if you’re eligible for deductions in your state.
If you have a complicated return and want someone to look it over for you, this service has an option, called TurboTax Live, which gives you on-demand access to a CPA or enrolled agent who can help you fill out the return. The expert will also review your documents before you submit them. If you have a particularly complicated return – you own your own business or have a lot of investment income, for instance –this might be an options worth looking at. It is expensive: $149.99 for federal returns with additional costs for state returns.
TurboTax also offers audit protection through its MAX add-on. This is a combination of identity protection and audit protection and costs $44.95. Audits are relatively rare – only about one in 100 returns are audited – so getting MAX would only be worth looking at if you have a complicated return. All returns get basic audit support, which means that TurboTax will guide you through the initial process and explain what you need to do. With MAX you get representation and support gathering documents.
You can get your return through direct deposit, a check or a prepaid card. Direct deposit is the quickest way, while checks can take a while to arrive. If you opt for the prepaid card, be aware that there might be fees for withdrawing from ATMs, depending on what type of cards are available. You can also use your return to pay the filing fee.
TurboTax is our pick for the best overall tax program. Our reviewers found it to be the easiest tax software to use. It has a lot of tools to help you complete your return with the fewest headaches and get the best in terms of refund or amount owed. One drawback is that it’s among the most expensive programs we tested. The free version is only viable for the simplest returns.