Refund & Payment Options
Best Online Tax Software
Why Online Tax Software?
We’ve been reviewing online tax software for 14 years. For the 2018 update we looked at eight of the most popular online tax programs and filed returns through them using common scenarios. While most of the companies offer free versions, if you have a complicated return or want to take advantage of tax credits or deductions, you’ll have to pay to file for most of the products. The costs for a federal return range from $17 to $37. State returns rarely have free options and cost between $12.95 and $39.99 to file.
Our pick for the best tax software is Turbo Tax. It’s the easiest to use, with helpful tools that make finding deduction and tax credits simple. If you’re just filing a 1040EZ, you can do so for free, but more advanced returns can be pricey.
Credit Karma is the one service that doesn’t charge anything at all to file your return, no matter how complicated. You’ll have to sign up for an account, which includes its credit score service. Credit Karma lacks some of the additional services other programs offer, like audit support.
If you want a professional to look over your return, H&R Block is the best choice. You won’t have to go to an H&R Block location; you’ll just fill out your return online and pay extra to have a professional look it over, find any deductions or credits you missed, and submit your return for you.
Why Trust Us
At Top Ten Reviews we’ve reviewed tax software for 14 years. We make sure to only test the most recent version of each program. We also keep our eye out for new programs and try to avoid white label versions of the same software. This year we’ve included FreetaxUSA and Credit Karma.
As we evaluated tax programs, we consulted the National Association of Tax Professionals, an association dedicated to providing tax professionals with resources and education, about deductions and tax credits to look out for. One of the best credits is the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which can be overlooked if you paid for the care through a flexible spending account. The NATP advises looking for tax credits, which are superior to deductions because they reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar.
How We Tested
To find the best tax program we filled out returns using a common scenario. We looked at how easy it was to fill out a return. Filing your taxes can be frustrating, no matter how complicated they are, so we looked for features that make filing your taxes as smooth as possible.
The best programs are easy to navigate, clearly showing you all the steps you need to go through to enter your information. We liked ones that highlight all the most important places you might want to backtrack to. Many now include the option to import your W-2, a time saving feature that ensures your information is accurate.
One of the most crucial things we found was the way each program flags errors. It’s easy to make mistakes – we made a few by putting an income amount in a tax-withheld box. Programs like Turbo Tax and FreeTaxUSA won’t let you proceed if you make an error. They call it out immediately and have you correct it before moving on. Programs like Jackson Hewitt are lacking in this regard. They wait till the end to show errors and, even more frustratingly, make you click back through your return without noting what needs to be corrected.
For most of these programs, filing your state returns is even easier than the federal return. The tax software transfers the information you already entered to complete your state return automatically.
Most of the programs we reviewed offer some type of free return. Usually this is for the most basic type of return, a 1040EZ or 1040A. If you’ve got a complex return, want to itemize your deductions or are self-employed, you’ll likely have to pay for more advanced versions with features for those specific situations.
What Else to Consider When Choosing Tax Software
Audit is a scary word, and most of these programs try to upsell you some form of protection. Often these come bundled with identity theft protection or other services. The typical audit protection means that you’ll get one-on-one guidance from a tax professional. Some audit defense packages include representation from the company, who will gather documents and work with the IRS on your behalf. These protection plans can be expensive, with costs ranging from $44.95 to $6.99.
Many services, such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block, have free audit support. This is a scaled-down version of the audit protection you pay for, and the main benefit is that the tax software company will provide an explanation and assistance in preparing for an audit. It doesn’t provide any representation or help with preparing documents.
Audits are rare. Usually only about one in 100 returns are audited. Really, you only need to worry about an audit if you’re filing a complicated return. If you’re filing a Schedule C for self-employment income, you are more likely to be audited. Often audits occur due to a lack of good record keeping, something that audit protection can’t really help with. Audit protection, like accuracy guarantees, generally cover little more than assurance that the return was done correctly, based on information that you provided.
The most common way to get your tax refund, if you do get one, is either through direct deposit or a check in the mail. Some places may also provide prepaid cards. If you need the refund immediately due to some financial hardship, you may be able to get an advance. H&R Block, Credit Karma, Liberty Tax and Jackson Hewitt are the companies we reviewed that offer advances.
The advance isn’t quite a loan – there’s no interest or fees, only the requirement that you file through the company providing the advance.
The advances are often loaded onto a prepaid card, so be conscious of any fees associated with those cards. Generally the fee is a few dollars per withdrawal, so check to make sure the card has a free ATM network associated with it. Some advances can be direct deposited as well.