The tax filing season is upon us again, and Well Kept Wallet is here to guide you through each and every step. Today we’re going to go through a few tax filing basics, as well as share a review of 3 of the most popular do-it-yourself tax return filing software systems. Tax filing is easy for some, a bit more difficult in other situations, depending largely 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, whereas a more comprehensive return, such as that of a property investor, can be more complicated and may require professional assistance. 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’s our review of three of the most popular tax filing software programs, but first, some 2016 tax filing basics.
Tax Filing Basics
Here are some of 2016’s basic tax return guidelines that will help you as you prepare to file your income taxes for the 2015 tax year.
- The tax season officially opens on Tuesday, January 19, 2016. This means that the Internal Revenue Service won’t accept any return filings before that date.
- The tax season officially closes on Monday, April 18, 2016. The reason for the deviation from the traditional April 15th deadline is that Washington DC is celebrating Emancipation Day on Friday, April 15th, so they decided to give taxpayers an extra couple of days to finalize their returns. *BONUS: If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, thanks to the celebration of Patriots Day on April 18th, you’ve got until midnight on Tuesday, April 19th to complete filing of your tax return without late penalties.
- 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 $62,000 or less.
- 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
Now that we’ve shared some helpful information on the basics of tax filing for the 2015 tax year, it’s time to share our reviews of three of the most popular do-it-yourself tax software programs. Tax filing is easier than ever before with the newest in online tax filing programs.
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.
Turbo Tax has four different tax filing programs, ranging in price from FREE (yes, I said “Free!) to $79.99. Here’s a breakdown chart that tells you more:
As is evident, there are a variety of packages to choose from. You’ll notice from the chart above that although state filing is free for those who qualify for the Federal Free Edition, the other three programs have an additional fee for filing your state tax returns. That fee amounts to $36.99 for all three of the non-free programs, bringing your total cost for Turbo Tax to a range of between $72 and $107.
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!
Founded in 1998, TaxAct doesn’t have the longevity in the business that Turbo Tax does, however, any business that’s been around for nearly twenty years must be doing something right. They’re also the third largest tax filing company in the United States – not too shabby.
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 cheaper than Turbo Tax. Their state filing fees are also much cheaper than Turbo Tax, ranging from 9.99 for the Basic Program to $14.99 for the Plus and Premium programs.
What Users are Saying
TaxAct doesn’t post online reviews like Turbo Tax does, however they did have a blurb on their site saying that in a 2013 survey, 9 out of 10 customers answered “yes” when asked if they’d recommend TaxAct to family and friends.
However I did find a 2015 review of TaxAct at PC Mag, and the reviewer spoke favorably about the Tax Act programs, giving them an “Excellent” rating and the label of “Editor’s Choice” as well, trumping Turbo Tax after a long-running winning streak.
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.
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.
Free Tax USA offers two options:
- The free edition: FREE
- The Deluxe edition: $5.95
The addition of a state tax filing will cost a mere $12.95 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. Nearly all of the remaining survey users gave Free Tax USA a 4-star rating. 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, save for 1 or two complaints about the uploading process. All in all, consumers were quite happy with Free Tax USA.
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. Each reviewer had their complaints about the three programs, but most were relatively minor and were far overshadowed by the kudos for the programs regarding their usability, their affordable pricing and their mostly-competent help centers. I couldn’t find any professional reviews by top companies about Free Tax USA. File with FreeTaxUSA today!
Which Should You Choose?
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 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 as well as time with the easy-to-follow instructions that each program contains.
Given that a 2014 survey conducted by the National Society of Accountants showed that the average tax preparer’s fee was $261, there’s much money to be saved by using a do-it-yourself tax preparation software package like the ones we’ve reviewed above. And if you receive a tax refund, it’s a good idea to use that tax refund in a way that benefits you long-term.
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?