Taxes are due this year, as always, on April 15 — and that’s this coming Monday. You should already have your W-2, your 1099-DIV, your 1099-INT and all of the other forms. So, if you don’t want to spend this weekend scrambling to finish, it’s time to sit down and get to work.
This year is going to be more challenging than ever. The US passed a mammoth tax-reform bill in 2017, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (let’s call it TCJA from here on out). And the changes mean all kinds of modifications of the rules as well as 400 or more new or revised forms to complete.
Fear not: There are a multitude of tax software vendors here to help. These services, either through downloadable software, a web form or, increasingly, a smartphone app, turn the matter of taxes into a less painful question-and-answer dialogue. And if you think there’s no such thing as free tax software, think again. Many of these services offer free versions for the simplest forms (e.g., 1040EZ — at least the federal term), and one of these recommended services, Credit Karma, offers completely free tax preparation. (It makes money by taking a revenue cut of other affiliate services that it offers.)
Picking the right tax preparation software can be almost as complicated as estimating what you owe the government. There are a plethora of features, with nuances, and much of what they offer is either not spelled out by vendors or buried in fine print. The following guide will ease the process, with descriptions of the more prominent offerings, their features and prices, and a guide to how to use them. We’ll start with the top services available, and then go into greater depth about the new laws, and how the services differ.
Turbo Tax by Intuit: CD, online, mobile. Listed prices range from a free tier for basic returns to $40 for the downloadable Basic edition to $90 for Self-employed. All packages tack on extra charges of $50 to $70 to add the Live CPA feature, and $50 for Max. State filings are $20 each for the online versions, and free with the Deluxe, Premium or Home & Business download editions. It generally offers the most comprehensive set of tools. A nice feature is charitable donations tracking, whereby you can use the software year-round to keep track of donations and have the program compute your deductions at tax time.
TaxAct Online: CD, online, mobile. Listed prices range from $10 for the Basic online version to $97 for the Self-employed download/CD package. State filings are $20 to $37 depending on the package. It promises $100,000 of coverage if you find a higher refund somewhere else, and $100,000 to cover audit costs if its software causes an audit. One useful extra is a log of all the times your online paperwork has been accessed, including the IP address of the computer that gained access, in case you want to make sure no one but you has been into your account.
Right now, TaxAct is offering $20 off, too.
Credit Karma Tax : Online or mobile. The only vendor that offers no paid versions — even state filings are free and included is a free audit defense. The tax product is part of the larger Credit Karma collection of services, including credit cards, loans and auto loans, off of which the company makes a fee for referrals. It has the thinnest offering of guarantees: no penalties insurance. However, if you get a higher refund from another vendor, they will offer a $100 gift certificate.
H&R Block: CD, online, mobile. There’s a free tier for individuals with simple returns. Listed prices range from $19 for the Basic download to $80 for the online Self-employed package. State filings are $30 to $40 depending on the package. Smartphone app offered. Tax Pro Review promises extra hand-holding from the company’s network of CPAs.
Tax Slayer: Online or mobile. Listed prices range from $24 for Classic to $47 for Self-employed. State filings are $29 extra each. Support offerings include Ask a Tax pro, via phone or email. Premium and Self-employed packages offer to put you at the front of the support queue, at least relative to the Classic version. You can get started with the program right now.
Free Tax USA: Online only. One of the cheapest offerings, with the only pay version being Deluxe, at $7 (no downloads offered). State filings are $13 extra. Support includes online chat between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, but only for the Deluxe version, not for the free offering. Similar to Tax Slayer, a priority feature puts you ahead in the support queue relative to users of the free version. A bonus is the ability to file “unlimited amended returns” at “no extra cost.” You can get started with the program right now.
Liberty Tax/eSmart Tax: Online only. Listed prices range from $20 for EZ to $75 for Premium (no downloads offered). eTax pricing is slightly cheaper, while functionality appears to be comparable. It has a limited-function smartphone app, which is just a directory of Liberty Tax offices around the country. Support includes online text chat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, and a network of CPA offices throughout the country. Promises “360-degree support” and “multichannel support…….Read more>>