When it comes to features and ease of use, Intuit's TurboTax is still the mack daddy of tax preparation programs. It offers three tiers of service — Deluxe ($55), Premier ($80), and Home & Business ($105) — and it will point you to the appropriate one by having you check off items that apply to your situation. Whichever package you end up using, expect to tack on $40 for a state return.
TurboTax remains the priciest of the big three but it also has the slickest interface, best data import support for W-2 and 1099 forms, and plenty of assistance through free access to tax experts and an active user community.
This year, TurboTax continues its Amazon gift card refund program. If you e-file using Deluxe, Premier, or Home & Business and you opt to receive your refund on an Amazon gift card (in denominations of $100), TurboTax will add 5 percent to it. So, if you decide to put $500 of a refund into a gift card, you'll get a card for $525. The offer is good up to a maximum of $2000 per card and $10,000 per customer.
H&R Block also offers three paid options: Basic ($35), Deluxe for homeowners and investors ($50), and Premium for the self-employed or rental property owners ($80). State returns are an additional $40. All tiers include data import support, plus guidance on deductions, home mortgage interest, and more depending on the package.
Block's differentiator continues to be its network of tax pros, which is available for tax advice as well as in-person audit support should you need it, all at no extra cost. Block also offers a Best of Both service: For an additional $100, you can have the federal return you've prepared reviewed, fixed, and filed by one of its tax preparers.
Like TurboTax, Block offers a refund bonus program, sweetening the pot if you put some or all of your refund toward the purchase of a gift card from one of more than 40 retailers including Best Buy and Target. Refund receivers using Basic will get 5 percent added to their card amount, while Deluxe and Premium users can look forward to an additional 10 percent.
Historically TaxAct has been the bargain offering of the Big Three, and that's still the case. Its state-and-federal Ultimate Bundle, which includes e-filing, is an unbeatable deal at $22. Opting for just their Deluxe Federal package will set you back only $13. But what you save in fees, you lose in features.
TaxAct's interface isn't nearly as streamlined as those of its two biggest competitors. There is no phone or chat access to tax experts, only email support. There is a fairly robust library of text and video assistance on a variety of common tax topics. But if you're on a budget and you don't need a lot of hand-holding, TaxAct may be your best bet.
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