Tax preparation software can speed up and simplify the process. But how do you know which product is best for you?
NerdWallet, the personal finance website, did a lot of the legwork for you. Evaluations for the Best Tax Software of 2020 were based on features, tools, ease of use, support and price.
“The best packages are really useful,” said Andrea Coombes, a tax expert at NerdWallet. “They guide you through the process, ask you questions that help you file a return that's accurate and claims all the tax breaks you qualify for.”
Read this before you buy tax prep software
If your adjusted gross income is below $69,000, visit the IRS website and see if you qualify for the Free File Program. Ten major software companies — including TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxAct — are taking part this year.
If you don’t qualify for IRS Free File, then you should look at the free packages available from the tax preparation companies. TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer and Jackson Hewitt all offer free online preparation and filing for those with simple tax returns.
NerdWallet's Picks for 2020
BEST FOR SIMPLE RETURNS: H&R Block Free Edition
NerdWallet Take: “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.”
NerdWallet defines a “simple” return as one that has W-2 wages, limited income from interest or dividends (less than $1,500) and taking the standard deduction.
With H&R Block Free edition you can prepare a federal and state return, and file them for free.
BEST FOR THOSE BEGINNING TO ITEMIZE: H&R Block Deluxe Edition
NerdWallet Take: “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.”
H&R Block Deluxe lets you:
- Itemize and claim deductions and credits for mortgage interest, property taxes, medical expenses, contributions to a health savings account (HSA) and charitable deductions.
- Photo import your W-2 and 1099 forms, which reduces the amount of typing you need to do, and last year’s returns from any tax preparation service.
H&R Block’s Online Assist — unlimited, on-demand sessions with a tax expert via chat, phone or video conference — is available for an extra charge.
NerdWallet says this software package is not for freelancers, those who own a small business, landlords or investors who have capital gains and losses.
GOOD FOR COMPLEX RETURNS: TurboTax Premier or TurboTax Self-Employed
NerdWallet Take: “TurboTax is generally pricier than everything else out there but while confident filers may not need all the bells and whistles its software offers, many people — especially with complex tax situations — will find the experience worth a few extra bucks.”
TurboTax Premiere is for someone with various investments and/or rental income.
TurboTax Self-Employed has everything the Premiere package does and it supports extra deductions for freelancers and independent contractors, as well as someone who has a home office. It includes a one-year subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed.
TurboTax Live, a paid service, gives you unlimited live tax advice via video chat. You can also have a CPA or enrolled agent review your return before you file. If you want, they will sign the return and e-file it for you. Live also includes a year’s worth of tax advice.
BUDGET PICK: TaxSlayer
NerdWallet Take: “TaxSlayer is one of the best deals on the market. Its interface isn’t far off those offered by providers charging twice the price, but we think confident tax filers will fare the best.”
In other words, TaxSlayer is best for someone who feels comfortable doing their own return without a lot of hand-holding. You can file a complex return even with the basic package.
Tax help is available with the higher-priced products, and it’s a little different from the competition. With “Ask a Pro,” you submit a question and a tax professional responds within one business day via phone or email.
BUDGET PICK: TaxAct
NerdWallet Take: “TaxAct has been working overtime to compete against the bigger players, and this year’s suite of tax prep packages proves TaxAct is indeed a contender. TaxAct’s products may not be as flashy as those from H&R Block and TurboTax, but their prices are better, and for some, function outweighs form.”
TaxAct provides most of the standard features, such as importing your W-2 and last year’s return. Help is available throughout the preparation process, but “other competitors have more robust-inline help,” NerdWallet said.
What about audit protection?
Audits happen, but not very often. The IRS now audits less than .05 percent of all individual returns each year — that’s still about 1 million returns.
Most tax preparation software companies will provide their customers with “free guidance.” They’ll help you understand what’s happening, but won’t speak to the IRS on your behalf.
H&R Block tax software comes with “a no surprise guarantee” that includes help in managing an audit and in-person representation for free.
Other companies offer an audit protection package for an additional charge ($29 — $60) that provides full representation from a tax professional should you get audited.
Does it make sense to buy audit protection?
That all depends on your budget, how much you’re willing to pay for peace of mind, and if there’s anything in your return that’s likely to flag an audit.
If you have a simple return — W-2 wages and maybe some income from interest and dividends reported on 1099 forms — you probably don’t need it. If you have a complicated return with numerous sources of business income and various types of deductions, it might be worth considering.
Shop around for savings
Prices for tax preparation software varies greatly. Some retailers sell it for less than the manufacturer. Be sure to look online for discount coupons. And remember: The price covers your federal return. There’s an extra charge for each state return you file.
MORE TAX TIPS
- 11 smart ways to spend your tax refund, according to personal finance experts
- Ask a tax expert: Is it better to file your taxes jointly or separately?
- Freelancing? Here's how to prepare for tax season all year long