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Online tax software roundup: H&R Block, TaxAct, and TurboTax compared

IDG News Service Staff | March 16, 2016
Here we go again. The glorious comeback of the tax return. Our yearly reminder that your first financial overlords await your annual offering.

Here we go again. The glorious comeback of the tax return. Our yearly reminder that your first financial overlords await your annual offering.

This year I looked at three apps, all of which are Web-based. In addition to these Web apps you’ll find that each of these companies offer desktop versions with similar features. Truth is, the online versions of these apps are near, if not exact, mirrors of their desktop counterparts. All offer the same features, the only difference being that your data is stored on the Web rather than on your local hard drive.

iOS versions, where offered, are linked to the same Web data you access using these apps. And, it’s important to note that no matter what application you use, unless you print and mail a paper return, at some point in time your data will be travelling securely across the Web, through one of these companies to the IRS’s servers.

Which three online apps will we look at?

All of these tax tools work really well. They make gathering and entering information easy, and, if your have all your paperwork ducks in one place, will help you knock out fairly complex tax filings in 90 minutes or less. These apps are clear about why you are or aren’t getting a refund, and they all make the filing process simple.

Let’s cut to the chase: TaxAct pretty well bowled me over with its simplicity, but even more with the breadth of its online offerings; from the most basic to corporate tax filings, Tax Act offers it all, leaving H&R Block and TurboTax in the dust.

TaxAct

TaxAct ($0 to $30 plus $20 for state taxes) is stunningly simple from the start and, after only having used it for a few minutes, left me in wonder at how pleasant it was to work with. While every tax app walks you through an interview process, TaxAct first asks if you’ve filed taxes before and, if you have, lets you import your prior year’s tax return. And, while this seems and sounds obvious, TaxAct pulls your personal info from a PDF of last year’s return, minimizing the amount of manual data entry you have to do. (PDFs have to have been created using either TurboTax or H&R Block software. No scans of paper returns.)

Once you’ve imported your prior year’s tax return, you’re asked to verify information to ensure it imported correctly. This includes checking your social security numbers and any dependent information, adjusting whether or not you or anyone else in your family is still in college, and otherwise making sure that your information is accurate. TaxAct imported my 2014 return without flaw, including holdover losses from last year and educational information related to children in college, all of which was pulled off my prior year’s tax forms. At minimum this feature saved me 30 minutes of manual data entry, if not more.

 

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