With the April 15th deadline looming, lots of people still haven't filed their taxes. If you're among them, and you're planning a do-it-yourself strategy, the good news is that you'll find plenty of good software solutions out there to help. Which one is best for you, though? In this article, we'll assist you in making that decision by spotlighting the top three offerings, based on our expert reviews.
Essentially, you can prep your taxes in any of three ways (outside of the old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach); directly online, by downloading tax prep software on to your PC, or by installing software delivered through a boxed product.
More and more these days, vendors of do-it-yourself solutions offer free online filing, although typically without all of the features (and often, without all of the forms) that you'll get with paid versions. Even when you pay for it, online tax filing is usually a bit less costly than PC-installable Windows software. On the other hand, when you install software on your PC, you get the extra option of working offline.
Our top three picks for do-it-yourself tax prep software offers all of the above alternatives, along with multiple editions geared to those with tax situations ranging from the simple to the highly complex.
There are only minimal numerical differences in how these solutions are rated in our reviews.
So beyond the rankings, you should look at how each approach might best meet your needs in terms of price, features, usability, and support options.
Here is our list of Top 3 favorites. For more details about products, click on the links below to read our full reviews.
While TurboTax enjoys a more massive taxpayer user base, H&R Block At Home came out on top by a very small margin in our reviewer rankings. One key factor here is the customer support network available through H&R's nationwide chain of tax prep offices.
While other vendors offer various phone and email support options, H&R also lets you bring your completed or semi-completed tax form to a professional tax preparer at a brick-and-mortar site for in-person assistance.
This makes it an especially attractive choice for anyone who has any doubts about how to prepare a return properly.
H&R Block At Home also tends to be somewhat less pricey than solutions from market leader TurboTax.
Rating Average: 9.4
All three of the leading vendors follow similar methods, offering you the choice of either being guided through the tax prep process by answering a series of questions or going directly to a forms view.
TurboTax's tab-based user interface is slick indeed, however, and the company excels in the finer points of usability, such as making it easy to import the tax returns of previous years from other vendors' software.
If you want a dab of social interaction with other taxpayers to offset the tax prep monotony, you can access the TurboTax "community." There, you can view relevant questions that others have asked, or you can ask your own and see if some other TurboTax user can help you.
Yet on the whole, TurboTax is somewhat more costly than its rivals.
Rating Average: 9.3
Third-place choice TaxACT might have scored higher in our reviewer ratings except that some functions -- such as filing for a six-month extension and importing tax returns from other vendors' software -- aren't all that smooth to find or use unless you're already familiar with TaxACT's products.
In terms of the pricing aspect, however, TaxACT is the hands-down winner in comparison to TurboTax and H&R Block At Home.
Also impressively, the Free edition of TaxACT includes all e-fileable forms for both simple and complex tax situations (although some features, such as the Donation Assistant and Joint vs. Separate Report analysis tool, are reserved for the paid editions).
In a special perq, TaxACT customers can also get a real bargain on services from a separate company called Tax Audit Defense, which promises to represent you in dealing with any federal or state audits.
Rating Average: 8.7
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