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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.

After the initial import and double-check TaxAct’s interview process runs the usual gamut. Did you:

  • Get married
  • Divorced
  • Buy/sell houses, stocks, knick-knacks
  • Pay/receive interest

If you’ve received a K-1 from a corporation you own and you completed your corporate taxes using TaxAct’s 1120 return, you can import that K-1 data from your business return directly into TaxAct’s 1040. Which is, yet again, an added benefit of the app and highlights the fact that, unlike TurboTax and H&R Block’s tax offerings, TaxAct can handle all your tax needs.

Once you complete the interview process, you review your file, verify that all your information has been entered correctly, pay the piper and file. All really quite simple.

TurboTax

TurboTax ($0 to $105 plus $40 for state taxes) has long been the king of the tax prep hill, with apps that run on all your devices and, if you’re like most people who prepare their taxes at home, you’ve probably used some version of their software to file your taxes in the past. Which is why I find it odd that, for me, TurboTax provided the most frustrating experience. This frustration arose mostly from the app’s inability to automatically enter any kind of information, whether you’ve used previous versions of the app or not.

While TaxAct allows you to import data from a PDF of last year’s tax returns, TurboTax won’t let you import anything from anywhere. So, even though I used the App Store version of TurboTax on my Mac last year, I couldn’t use that as a starting point for this year’s return, which meant that I had to manually enter all of my personal data from scratch. What’s odd about this is that the desktop version of the app does let you import data from last year’s return. But, as anyone who has ever used Intuit applications knows, this kind of inconsistency across platforms is par for the course.

While TurboTax wasn’t great at importing personal data it does offer options for importing interest income and mortgage interest data directly from your bank. This requires that you have login information for your bank’s website, but once you provide that information TurboTax automatically imports and applies it to the proper tax documents. This isn’t a feature offered by either of the other tax apps.

The TurboTax interview process is straightforward and consistent across all the Intuit tax applications, with a side benefit if you use an iOS device: Both TurboTax for iOS and the Web app use the same data, so you can start on the Web and finish on your iOS device.

H&R Block

I have one complaint about the H&R Block ($0 to $35 plus $10 to $37 for state taxes) tax app that has nothing to do with the way the app works: It’s just not obvious how much you’re going to have to pay to file taxes before you start using the app. The H&R Block site displays comparison information indicating that it is by far the least expensive of these three apps. But as soon as you start preparing your return, it’s clear that the $10 fee displayed in the “comparison” on their splash page is what you pay when filing basic federal and state returns. As soon as your tax situation gets mildy complicated you’ll need to upgrade to a more expensive version. And $10 for a basic return is actually more expensive than either TurboTax or TaxAct, both of which are free for state and federal filings.

 

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