How to Pick the Right Tax Filing Software For You

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The tax filing season is upon us again, and Well Kept Wallet is here to guide you through each step.

We’re going to go through a few tax filing basics, as well as share a review of three of the most popular do-it-yourself tax return filing software systems.

Tax Filing Basics

First, let’s go over some tax filing basics before we begin our review of three of the most popular tax filing software programs.

Tax filing is easy for some, but it is a bit more difficult in other situations. The degree of difficulty mainly depends on the types of deductions you’re dealing with.

A basic tax return with standard deductions can easily be completed at home with the help of a quality tax filing software program.

In contrast, a more comprehensive return, such as that of a property investor, can be more complicated and may require professional assistance. So having a good system in place can help you to avoid overpaying on your taxes.

Whether or not you pay someone else to complete your returns is up to you. However, do-it-yourself tax filing is getting easier all the time thanks to state-of-the-art online software.

Here are some basic tax return guidelines that will help you as you prepare to file your income taxes for the upcoming tax year.

  • The tax season open date changes every year. The Internal Revenue Service won’t accept any return filings before the official open date.
  • The tax season officially closes on April 15. However, there are delays for some years. For instance, there may be a delay if April 15 falls on a weekend. Check with the IRS for the official season end date in any given year.
  • According to the IRS website, seventy percent of the nation’s taxpayers are eligible for IRS Free File, which offers free name-brand software to tax filers with adjusted gross incomes of $66,000 or less (as of 2019).
  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offer free tax help to those who qualify. Go to this IRS website page for more information on how you may be able to take advantage of these services.

3 Different Tax Filing Softwares

First, we shared some helpful information on the basics of tax filing for the current tax year. Now, it’s time to share our reviews of three of the most popular do-it-yourself tax software programs.

1. Turbo Tax

With a 30-year track record, Turbo Tax is easily one of the most popular at-home online filing systems available. With a variety of pricing options for programs that cover tax filers in nearly every situation, Turbo Tax has you covered.

Software Pricing

Turbo Tax has four different tax filing programs, ranging in price from FREE (yes, I said “Free!”)  to $119.99. Here’s a breakdown chart that tells you more:

TurboTax plans and prices 2019

As is evident, there are a variety of packages to choose from. You’ll notice from the chart above that state filing is free for those who qualify for the Federal Free Edition. But the other three programs have an additional fee for filing your state tax returns. That fee amounts to between $34.99 and $44.99 for all three of the non-free programs, bringing your total cost for Turbo Tax to a range of between $85 and $165.

What Users are Saying

I did a quick scan of the reviews on the Turbo Tax site. All programs got an average 4.5+ rating on the site. As I searched through the lowest reviews, the most common problems I found were an inability to print the forms and complaints about rising fees. However, most reviews were highly favorable. Do your own taxes with TurboTax® and Save 10%! Start now!

2. TaxAct

Founded in 1998, TaxAct doesn’t have the longevity in the business that Turbo Tax does. Still, any business that’s been around for over twenty years must be doing something right. Plus, they’re also the third largest tax filing company in the United States – not too shabby.

Software Pricing

Like Turbo Tax, TaxAct also has four different basic programs for tax filers to choose from. Here’s a chart breakdown:

The first thing you’ll likely notice about TaxAct is that its prices are much lower than Turbo Tax. Their state filing fees are also cheaper than Turbo Tax, ranging from 14.95 for the Basic Program to $57.95 for the Premier program.

Note: TaxAct also has a free program for basic 1040 filers.

What Users are Saying

TaxAct doesn’t have many online reviews (like Turbo Tax), but they did have three on their homepage. Each one gave TaxAct between four and five stars (out of five). It’s implied that the reviews indicate why millions of people use TaxAct every year.

However, I did find a 2019 (2018 filing year) review of TaxAct at PC Mag, and the reviewer spoke favorably about the Tax Act programs, giving them an “Excellent” rating.

The biggest complaint the professional reviewer had was that in her opinion, TaxAct’s program wasn’t as visually attractive as the Turbo Tax program. If you can give up the “pretty” in order to save money, TaxAct could be the tax filing software for you.

3. Free Tax USA

Free Tax USA was founded in 2001 by a CPA and a team of professional software developers, according to its website “About Us” page. With a 15-year history in the business, it’s probably safe to say they’ve got a good system down.

Software Pricing

Free Tax USA offers two options:

  • The free edition: FREE
  • The Deluxe edition: $6.99

The addition of a state tax filing will cost a mere $14.99 for all users. The prices here are very reasonable and affordable for nearly every tax filer.

What Users are Saying

According to the site, an overwhelming number of users – nearly 90 percent, gave the company a 5-star rating. Almost all of the remaining survey users gave Free Tax USA a 4-star rating.  

In fact, ratings of 3, 2 and 1 were given by less than 1 percent of all survey-takers. As I perused the lower ratings, I didn’t really see any valid complaints, except for one or two complaints about the uploading process. All in all, consumers were quite happy with Free Tax USA. File with Free Tax USA today!

What the Tax Experts are Saying

As I looked through independent expert reviews such as PC Mag and Kiplinger’s, I consistently found Turbo Tax and Tax Act listed as the top two do-it-yourself tax filing programs recommended by the experts.

To point out, each reviewer had their complaints about the three programs, but most were relatively minor. The criticisms were far overshadowed by the kudos the programs received regarding their usability, affordable pricing and their mostly-competent help centers.

I couldn’t find any professional reviews by top companies about Free Tax USA.

The Bottom Line

Given the fact that all three of the above tax filing software programs have a wide range of features to cover tax filers’ needs in nearly any situation, you’re going to have to go with your gut on this one.

While some potential users may be influenced by price and pick Tax Act, others may be more influenced by the attractiveness of the program and choose Turbo Tax. Still, others, encouraged by the ultra-low prices of Free Tax USA might choose to go with money savings.

Whichever tax filing software you choose, I think it’s safe to say that by going with any of these three programs, you can save yourself money. And, with the easy-to-follow instructions that each program contains, you’ll save yourself time as well.

A 2018 study conducted by the National Association of Tax Professionals showed that the average tax preparer’s fee was $216. So there’s much money to be saved by using a do-it-yourself tax preparation software package like the ones we’ve reviewed above.

How do you handle your tax returns? Do you use an at-home tax filing software system, or do you leave that job to the professionals?


6 responses to “How to Pick the Right Tax Filing Software For You”

  1. Brian @DebtDiscipline says:

    We use Turbo Tax. Our taxes are not overly complicated and we find the software to have everything we need.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s great to hear, Brian!! We’ve never done our own – at least not for several years, but every year I consider trying it. 🙂

  2. Temmy says:

    Turbo tax looks nice. Does it support 4868 forms, since I must ask for a extension? This year started pretty poor. I am expecting some nice revenue, but in June, since I am working on a project. Until that time, I am not in a position to pay taxes.

  3. Monika says:

    These are excellent insights, Laurie!
    I agree that choosing wrong software can waste your money and time. I really liked Free File Alliance by the IRS that is allowing us to e-file the federal tax returns. It’s really perfect for the taxpayers with simple and basic returns. However, TurboTax, Tax Act, and Free Tax USA are somewhat advanced and let you explore every section of your return. There are items such as mortgage interest, loan interest, and highlighted unidentified deductions. They also provide alerts and help on the returns.

    Personally, as a practitioner, I’m using TurboTax and Free File for my clients.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Monika! It’s always great to have professional insights on posts such as these. We appreciate it!

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