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Taxes are confusing enough without the added stress of figuring out which tax software is the best tax software, so we did the research to help you choose the ideal option to file taxes online.
We focused on well-known and widely used tax preparation software, and while their underlying math is the same — the tax code is the tax code — there is a crucial difference between paying for what you could use and paying for stuff you don’t need.
We also looked at several other providers but didn’t include them here, because we felt they didn’t provide a level of service and features worth your time and money when you file taxes online.
Best tax software: Summary of our picks
- Best for simple returns: H&R Block Free
- Best for beginning to itemize: H&R Block Deluxe
- Good for complex returns: TurboTax
- Good budget picks: TaxSlayer, TaxAct
Best for simple returns: H&R Block Free
What’s a “simple” tax return?
Here we define it as one that includes wages and income from a W-2 and limited income from interest or dividends (less than $1,500); claims the standard deduction; and could claim the earned income tax credit or child tax credits.
If that sounds like where you’re at, you may not need a software package built for crazy-complicated tax situations.
And when it comes to tax prep software that can do simple returns at a reasonable price without sacrificing user-friendliness, we think H&R Block Free stands out from the crowd.
Like the free tax software from most of its competitors, H&R Block’s free version lets you file the Form 1040 and take a few common tax breaks if you qualify for them.
But it also lets you file schedules 1, 2 and 3, which is a big bonus because many taxpayers need to file those forms.
They allow you to report (but not calculate) things such as business income, alimony, deductible student loan interest, certain retirement contributions, the alternative minimum tax, the credit for dependent care expenses, the Lifetime Learning Credit and the Saver’s Credit.
To boot, H&R Block’s interface is good-looking, straightforward and easy to use, and it steps up to explain concepts as you go.
You can skip around if you want, and a banner across the top keeps track of where you stand in the process.
Help is available within the preparation process — many terms during the interview process are hyperlinked with a “learn more” tag so you can get more information without having to wander around.
The help menu updates according to where you are in the process.
And if you want to pay for it, H&R Block’s Online Assist gets you unlimited, on-demand chat, phone or screen-sharing sessions with a certified public accountant, enrolled agent or other tax expert at any point.
Here’s a side-by-side look at top providers’ free software packages and what they can do:
Basic tax software packages at a glance
If your tax situation is more complicated, don’t despair — you still might be able to get free tax software from most of these software providers through the IRS’ Free File program if your adjusted gross income for 2019 was less than $69,000.
» MORE:Learn about IRS Free File and other free filing options
Best for beginning to itemize: H&R Block Deluxe
If your tax situation isn’t simple, but it’s not super complex either, choosing tax software can quickly turn stressful.
Many people aren’t sure how much horsepower they need, they’re not impressed by features they may not use and they don’t want to overpay.
So when we evaluated each company’s entry-level paid software package for itemizers and studied things such as ease of use, features, help and support options, price and other factors, H&R Block Deluxe was our choice for value, support and modern features.
This version lets you itemize and claim several popular tax deductions and tax credits, including those for mortgage interest and property taxes, medical expenses and contributions to a health savings account, and charitable donations.
There is a W-2 photo import, which lets you avoid keying in numbers from little boxes.
You can import 1099s, and H&R Block Deluxe will import last year’s return from other tax prep companies.
If you want to pay for it, H&R Block’s “Online Assist” gets you unlimited, on-demand chat, phone or screen-sharing sessions with a CPA, enrolled agent or other tax expert at any point in the process.
Entry-level paid software packages like H&R Block Deluxe don’t handle everything — if you’re an investor, landlord or filing a Schedule C (for freelancers or small-business owners), you’ll need to upgrade — but the question-and-answer process that H&R Block and other providers employ usually points you to the appropriate package.
Companies might offer three or four paid software packages that handle increasingly complex tax situations.
TaxSlayer Review 2018 - 2019 - One Of The Best Options For Early Tax Filers
Here’s a side-by-side look at those packages from some top providers and what each can do:
Additional tax software packages at a glance
- $0 (federal) | $0 (state)
- What H&R Block Free can do: Income from wages (W-2), income from bank interest (1099-INT) and dividends (1099-DIV), student loan interest (1098-E).
- What H&R Block Free can’t do: Itemized deductions (Schedule A), Deductions and expenses from freelance or self-employed work (Schedule C), HSA distributions (1099-SA).
- See our H&R Block review.
- $49.99 (federal) | $36.99 (state)
- What H&R Block Deluxe can do: All H&R Block Free can, plus itemized deductions (Schedule A), HSA distributions (1099-SA).
- What H&R Block Deluxe can’t do: Deductions and expenses from freelance or self-employed work (Schedule C), capital gains and losses (Schedule D), income from rental property (Schedule E).
- See our H&R Block review.