For many decades, people have been collecting paperwork on their income, expenses and deductions for the year and dragging them into the local tax preparer’s office. Some people may also have been doing the work themselves, whether online or in person.
The invention of online tax preparation was genius, in my humble opinion. Create a few programs that allow people to have tax filing assistance from the comfort of their home and make a few bucks in the process.
But which tax preparation website are best – and cheapest? As a consumer you have several options to choose from if you want to file your taxes online. Here we’ll outline some of the most popular choices and what types of programs each one has to offer.
1. Turbo Tax
Turbo Tax has been offering cheap and free tax return filing since the 1980’s. Intuit acquired the company in 1993 and it’s been one of the most widely used online tax filing websites ever since.
Check out what the different programs Turbo Tax has to offer and each one’s different features and benefits:
Turbo Tax Free Edition
Turbo Tax’s Free Edition costs nothing; $0 for federal returns, $0 for state returns and $0 for filing fees. In order to be eligible for this product you have to meet certain requirements.
- You have to be filing a 1040EZ or 1040A form
- Your income has to be less than $100,000
- You aren’t taking any itemized deductions
- You didn’t sell any investments
- You don’t own a house
- You didn’t have any major medical expenses
- You didn’t have any 1099-Misc income and you don’t own a business
These are the broad parameters for filing a 1040EZ or 1040A form which makes you eligible for Turbo Tax’s Free Edition. Basically, if you have a really clean-cut tax situation with W-2 income and no deductions, this could work for you.
Turbo Tax Deluxe Edition
This is Turbo Tax’s most popular edition. It costs $39.99 for federal tax filing and $36.99 for state filing. With Turbo Tax Deluxe you get everything that comes with the Free Edition, plus it can itemize deductions such as charitable deductions, mortgage interest and more.
Their automated Deduction Finder will search more than 350 tax deductions to guarantee you the largest refund. You also qualify for on-demand tax help from their customer service team with this program.
Turbo Tax Premier Edition
The Turbo Tax Premier Edition is geared toward those with investment holdings and real estate holdings over and above a primary home.
It costs $59.99 to file your federal return using this edition, and $36.99 to file your state return. With this edition With Premier you get everything that comes in the Deluxe Edition, plus you can automatically import your investment information from the financial institution where you hold your investments and it’ll help you calculate capital gains, losses, etc.
You also qualify for step-by-step guidance in setting up new rental properties, and you have full access to the on-demand help center.
Turbo Tax Self-Employed Edition
The Self-Employed Edition comes with everything offered in the Premier Edition, along with these additional features:
- Specific guidance for business owners, freelancers and independent contractors
- Guidance on deductions specific to your particular industry
- Expense tracking, mileage tracking and more from QuickBooks Self-Employed
- Additional guidance on standard vs. actual mileage, home office deductions and more
This edition costs $89.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing.
Turbo Tax Live
This is a new offering this year from Turbo Tax. With the live edition you get all of the benefits of the Self-Employed Edition, plus you get a free one-on-one review with a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or EA (Enrolled Agent; a federally authorized tax practitioner) before you file.
You also get live tax advice from experienced experts in the field. This version costs $149.99 for the federal return and $36.99 for the state return. This can be a great option for those with complicated returns who want expert guidance as they file on their own.
As you can see, lots to choose from with Turbo Tax. They also have a guaranteed maximum refund and guaranteed accurate calculations or you get your money back.
2. Tax Act
Tax Act has been in business since 1998 and provides serious competition with Turbo Tax. Here’s the scoop on the different products they have to offer and how much each one costs.
Tax Act Free Edition
Tax Act’s free edition is similar to Turbo Tax’s in that it costs absolutely nothing to file your state or federal tax return. This edition is limited to 1040EZ and 1040A form filers. Remember that 1040EZ filers and 1040A filers have limited deductions available depending on the individual form.
1040EZ filers have to make less than $100k a year and can’t have any itemized deductions. You also can’t claim any dependents and can’t claim interest earned over $1500.
1040A filers have a bit more flexibility in their filing, including the ability to include other sources of income.
For more income on whether or not you qualify to file a 1040EZ or 1040A, check out this IRS article.
Tax Act Plus Edition
Tax Act’s Plus Edition is geared toward those with standard itemized deductions. It costs $29.95 to file a federal return, and $37 to file a state return. If you’ve got deductions such as charitable deductions, mortgage interest deductions and investment income, this version could work for you.
Some of the features of Tax Act Plus include:
- Access to more than 300 types of deductions
- Tax Act’s $100k Accuracy Guarantee
- A personalized financial assessment report outlining any other deductions, etc. you may be eligible for
They also have a price lock guarantee with this version which guarantees you’ll pay the price you were quoted at the time you started your return, no matter when you actually file.
Tax Act Freelancer Edition
This edition is geared toward, well, freelancers. If you’re an independent contractor or sole proprietor, this could be the best Tax Act version for you. Your federal return for this version is priced at $44.95, and your state return will cost $37.
Some of the benefits of this version include:
- The Deduction Maximizer; a tool designed to help you find every possible deduction as a self-employed person
- Tax Act’s $100k Accuracy Guarantee
- A feature allowing you to easily import and record capital gains, etc.
- A complimentary assessment report to help you spot opportunities to reduce your tax bill
Great version for those who run a small, independent business with no additional employees.
Tax Act Premium Edition
The Tax Act Premium Edition, according to the Tax Act website, is meant for all filers seeking “ultimate peace of mind.”
In other words, this version will guide you step-by-step through the tax filing process to help ensure you don’t miss a beat. The Premium Edition costs $59.95 for federal tax returns and $37 for state tax returns.
Along with all of the benefits of the freelancer version, Premium Edition buyers get Tax Act’s Audit Defense feature, which helps you defend yourself in case of an audit.
Although most 1040EZ and 1040A filers probably wouldn’t benefit much from this version (aside from the “peace of mind” aspect), it could be beneficial for those with itemized deductions who aren’t quite sure how to go about filing themselves.
Many great choices for prospective Tax Act clients as well as Turbo Tax clients. Now onto another long-standing tax preparation company; H & R Block.
3. H&R Block
H&R Block is by far the tax preparation company with the most experience on our list, having started in business over 60 years ago in 1955. I remember being a kid (I’m 50 now) and seeing H&R Block commercials around tax time.
This company has four different options to choose from regarding online tax filing. Here’s the scoop on each one.
H&R Block More Zero
The H&R Block More Zero plan costs $0 for federal filing and $0 for state filing. The website says it’s best for new filers, simple filers and homeowners, meaning you can deduct mortgage interest with this version.
You can also deduct donations, student loan interest and child care expenses, which is a nice addition from other free products we’ve talked about so far.
Bonus: H&R Block has a bonus feature you can add on called Tax Pro Review. This feature gives you access to an online review of your return by an H&R Block tax pro, just to give you peace of mind that you haven’t missed anything.
When you purchase the More Zero program, it costs $49.99 to get Tax Pro Review as an add-on.
H&R Block Deluxe
This program includes all of the features of the More Zero program, and adds some additional benefits as well, such as the ability to add hobby income (better known in the Well Kept Wallet world as “side hustle income” 😊 ), Health Savings Account deductions, a handy itemization tool known as their Deduction Pro, and unlimited tax advice via chat.
The H&R Block Deluxe program costs $34.99 to file your federal return and $36.99 to file your state return. If you want to add on Tax Pro Review with this package, it’ll cost you $79.99 instead of the $49.99 you’d pay with the More Zero program due to the fact that there’s likely more information to review.
H&R Block Premium
The H&R Block Premium program, according to the company, is best for freelancers, independent contractors, investors and rental property owners.
This program comes with all of the features of the Deluxe program, plus the ability to import expense information from apps such as Stride. You also get unlimited tax advice via chat with this version.
Note: The H&R Block website says that this program only fits those with less than $5,000 in freelancing/independent contractor income, but that you can input stock income and rental property income.
The cost for this version is $54.99 for your federal return and $36.99 for your state return. The cost to add on Tax Pro Review with this version is $89.99.
H&R Block Self-Employed Online
This program is geared toward those who are seriously self-employed and not just side hustlers. Along with the features of the Premium version, you have the ability to include all of your small business income and expenses.
The Self-Employed version costs $74.99 for federal filers and $36.99 to add your state return on. If you want to purchase Tax Pro Review with this version it’ll cost you $89.99.
A nice roundup of options from H&R Block as well, although it seems like they offer the most to simple tax return filers and the self-employed.
I’d honestly never heard of TaxSlayer until this year when a friend of my daughter’s mentioned he used it. When I started looking into what they offer I was surprised to learn they’ve been around since 1965.
I probably would have heard of them if I was into college football, given they struck a deal in 2014 to rename Florida’s Gator Bowl the TaxSlayer Bowl. But that’s neither here nor there. Onto their products.
The TaxSlayer Simply Free
TaxSlayer’s Simply Free program costs $0 for both federal returns. However, only those filing the 1040EZ form are eligible to use this version. The free version – as well as all other TaxSlayer programs – include live phone support and free email support.
The TaxSlayer Classic
The TaxSlayer Classic program costs $17 to file your federal return and an additional $22 to file your state return. You can use this version with all major IRS forms, but there are some limitations although the website doesn’t state exactly what they are.
The TaxSlayer Premium
The TaxSlayer Premium version costs $35 for your federal tax return and an additional $22 for your state return. Along with the benefits of the Classic program, you get Audit Assistance, Ask a Tax Pro assistance, Live Chat Support and Priority Support.
This sounds like it’s a good version for those with the usual standard deductions such as mortgage interest, charitable deductions, etc.
The TaxSlayer Self-Employed Edition
This version is best for those who are freelancers, independent contractors, rental property owners, etc. If you choose this version you’ll get all of the benefits of the Premium version, plus the ability to file your state return for free. The cost for this package: $55.
All of the TaxSlayer versions include their DeductionFinder tool, although I doubt it’ll do much good for free version customers since you can only use the free version when you file the 1040EZ form, but it’d be nice for those who purchase the other versions, especially the self-employed.
All in all a nice variety of choices from TaxSlayer as well. eSmart Tax is the next online tax prep company on our list.
5. eSmart Tax
This is another online tax prep company I hadn’t heard of before (yeah, I know; I need to get out more). eSmart Tax has several programs to choose from. But, you can save extra money on their programs with Ebates. So make sure you sign up for Ebates before you use eSmart Tax.
eSmart Tax Free
The free program eSmart tax offers is similar to the other free versions listed here: It only supports the 1040EZ form, but it also supports a Schedule B. Although it’s free to file your federal taxes with this version, it’ll cost you $29.99 to file your state returns.
Free chat and email support is available with this and all of the eSmart Tax programs as well.
eSmart Tax Basic
The eSmart Tax Basic program costs $24.95 for federal filers and an additional $35.95 if you want to include your state return.
Along with all of the features of the Free version, Basic version purchases get to include itemized deductions, business income and basic business expenses, depreciation, health savings account deductions, and interest income.
This version works with the 1040 for, the 8853 form and schedules A and B. The website says this version is best for families with various minor deductions.
eSmart Tax Deluxe
eSmart Tax’s Deluxe version costs $38.95 for federal filers and $35.95 to add your state return in. This version, according to the website, is best suited for investors. You get all of the features of the Basic version, along with the ability to add in sole proprietor income and home office deductions.
This version supports forms 1040, 4562, 8829, 4136 and schedules A, B and C. If you’re a full-time investor or self-employed person and not just an occasional side hustler, this might be a better version for you.
eSmart Tax Premium
The eSmart Premium version is suited to fit those who are seriously self-employed. Along with all of the features of the Deluxe version, you can include income from several real estate rentals, gains, profit and loss and S Corp information, and sale of any home information.
This version costs $49.99 for federal filers and $35.95 for state filers. You can use this version for just about any tax filing situation. See the eSmart Tax website for more information.
eSmart Tax also offers live support for its customers for any questions you may have. Although eSmart Tax is not as well known as some of the other companies we’ve mentioned here, they do offer many of the same guarantees of getting the maximum refund and ensuring an accurate return is filed.
Can I File Online Directly Through the IRS?
You might be wondering if you can go directly to the IRS website and file your taxes online. Yes, actually, you can. The IRS has a filing tool they call Free File, where you can file your federal tax return directly with them.
They have two versions; one for those who have income below $66,000 for the year, and one for those who have income above $66,000 per year. Don’t ask me which version to use if you have exactly $66,000 in income for the year; it doesn’t specify. 😊
Although this could be a good tax filing option for some, the main problem I see with the IRS’s Free File program is that it doesn’t offer the technical support that the other products we’ve mentioned here do.
In other words, unless you have a super easy return or know a lot about the tax laws, the Free File program is going to require some serious work on your part as you learn on your own what information to include on your return.
The other hurdle when filing with Free File through the IRS is that they don’t support your state return. This means that when you file your state return you’ll be starting from scratch.
However, when you use one of the paid-for versions mentioned above, you’ll usually get the ability to easily and often automatically transfer your information to the state form for your state. This will save you loads of time, and time is money as they say.
When it comes to choosing whether to use a free program offered by the government or one offered by a professional tax company, you need to decide how important the ease and convenience of what the professionals have to offer is to you.
Personally, I’ll pay for convenience every time if it means saving hours of work about a subject I don’t know very much about, such as taxes. In fact, I’ve had a tax preparer do my taxes for over twenty years now. All I do is get the paperwork in order and hand him the pile. Twenty minutes later – after I’ve written a check for his services, that is – I’m out the door.
Some people would rather take a year, learn all there is to learn about filing their taxes and have a skill they can use for life to help themselves and others file for free every year, and if that’s you, more power to you.
If you find learning that type of content interesting and are okay with educating yourself on tax law changes every year it could be very beneficial to educate yourself in doing your own return.
However, if you find that type of information mundane or painful (for me it would definitely be the latter), you may be better off leaving your tax returns to the professionals and using a service – or a local provider – that charges a bit of cash to make your life easier.
With the information on the various tax prep companies provided here, you can see that there are many cheap – and free – ways to file your taxes online.
Which one will you choose? Have you tried any of the companies mentioned here in the past?
Save Money Using a Robot
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There is a free tool called Trim which will cancel your unused subscriptions, find you cash back, and renegotiate your bills for you. All you do is sign up, connect an account and their robotic assistant will email you ways that you can save money.