“I love paying taxes!” — said no one ever. Selecting and using the right tax prep tools can take some of the stress out of filing your taxes each year. And, better still, most of them have free versions.
The following tax prep tools have been around for awhile and have stellar reputations for ease of use, low to no cost, and live help if you need it.
The truth is: the tax code is the tax code. However, it just makes sense to only pay for the services and tax prep tools that you need, instead of having to purchase a package that features bells and whistles you will never use.
If your taxes are pretty straightforward and utilize W2s, then you might be able to file for free. Those who are self-employed or run their own business may incur an additional charge with the following tools, but it probably won’t break the bank.
All of the following have high ratings for use, even for more complex returns. After all, you have better things to do than fill out your tax forms.
One of the most economic tax prep companies is TaxSlayer. This could be the tax prep site for you if you only have W2s to file for.
Most people report that they get through the tax prep wizard and electronically file their taxes in 30 minutes or less.
It also keeps track of how much of a refund you have coming to you, or how much you are going to owe. If you are self-employed, then this one becomes a little more complicated to use, and the online support for anything other than W2 wage earners is lackluster.
With the free version you do have access to help via email or phone. Live chat is not an option with the free version.
Federal filing fees cost between nothing, or as much as $49.95 if you have additional deductions. State returns start at $39.95.
Choose from several different tax filing packages with TaxAct. As with most of the tax prep tools that made this list, the simpler your situation, the less you generally pay.
TaxAct can be a great option if you just want something that is simple, don’t want frills, and is a streamlined process.
They offer free federal filing for W2 filers, but you can expect to pay up to $65 if you are a 1099 contractor, or if you have a business form to file. Regardless of which plan you select, the access to tax experts is free.
If you get partially through the process and just decide you would rather have someone do it for you, TaxAct gives you that option.
It does come with an upgrade fee, but then you know it is done for you and you can go on with your day. Your state taxes do not come free to file and begin at $39.95.
TurboTax has been around for a long while, and for good reason. It is known as one of the easiest to use of any of the taxprep tools.
If you still fall into the inexperienced category when it comes to paying taxes, then this is probably a good tax prep tool to start with.
The free version lets you file your 1040, and allows for other deductions and credits to be added without costing you anything. However, if you have a business, then the free version is not generally geared toward you.
You will have to select from a whole suite of business tax prep tools. They are also not free.
One feature that sets TurboTax ahead of the pack is the live help you get with screen share. This allows someone to give you live assistance while you work, if you need it.
Live assistance tax prep is not part of the free package, and you will pay between $64-$179 for the help. But, that price point includes filing your state taxes as well, and there’s no additional fee for that.
If you do not have a lot of experience filing taxes, or had some large life changes, then having someone assist you doing your taxes might be a good idea. H&R Block offers live online assistance to help you navigate the tax prep online tool if you need it.
One of the cool features of this tax prep tool is that it can import last year’s taxes and pre-populate the fields for this year. This can save you a lot of time and effort for sure.
What is also nice about how H&R Block works is that you do not pay for the use of the tax prep tool until it is time to file.
And, if you have a refund coming to you, they can just deduct any costs you have incurred from that refund amount. That way, you are not out of pocket for anything.
How These Tax Prep Tools Made the Cut
The above online tax prep tools were compared against five different criteria:
- User Experience
- Live Assistance
Also considered was the average length of time the user spent filling out and filing a simple 1040 return. When it came to cost, the companies were scrutinized for hidden costs, and if package offerings were similar to what others were offering at the same level.
Ease of use was a huge factor in determining worthiness for the list because what good is a dynamic tax prep tool if you cannot use it, or it is confusing.
Each of the tax prep sites above offered some form of live assistance, either via phone or chat features. Of crucial importance was the analysis of value to cost.