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Tax guide 2014: The best online services for tackling your 1040

Yardena Arar | March 18, 2014
Need help filing your federal and state income taxes? More than a dozen online services are vying for your business, promising to keep your refunds high and time investment low.

The offer is good up to a maximum of $2000 per card and $10,000 per customer. You must have purchased the software directly from Intuit or Amazon.

On the mobile side, TurboTax's iPad app matches its Deluxe edition (or higher, as an optional upgrade) and offers the option of photographing W-2s that you can't import from payroll services. Also, for the first time, TurboTax's smartphone app, SnapTax, is available in Spanish. SnapTax offers free federal filing for people who only have W-2, interest, or unemployment income and don't claim home mortgage deductions. State returns cost $14.99.

H&R Block: Leveraging that brick-and-mortar network

H&R Block has also updated its user interface and is now as handsome-looking as any competitor — although its navigation system still limits your ability to jump ahead to a topic before completing the ones that precede it. Its price structure is somewhat simpler than Intuit's, with three paid editions ($19.99 Basic, $29.99 Deluxe for investors or homeowners; and $49.99 Premium for business or rental property owners). States add-ons also cost $36.99.

Block continues to leverage its huge brick-and-mortar tax prep network by providing unlimited access to its tax pros for questions, plus audit support should the need arise (meaning a Block tax preparer will help you prepare for and accompany you to any IRS encounters). Block also offers the so-called "Best of Both" option, which charges you extra ($79 for the federal return) to have one of its tax preparers go over your completed return before filing.

Block's paid options include pretty good data import support, but in my tests the software required some odd changes to an imported W-2, involving deleting the California state disability insurance entry from its usual location and putting it into boxes labeled for other uses. Other imports went smoothly, however.

Block's mobile apps serve entry-level (1040EZ) filers only, but tablet users can simply access Web-based returns in a desktop-level browser.

TaxAct: Still a great deal

TaxAct continues to shine as a budget offering — its state-federal combo including all e-filing is a steal at $17.95 — with enough help to set it apart from competitors. It touts its accessibility via browser or tablet app (or both) and a pretty decent library of text and video help on a wide assortment of topics. TaxAct's interface is pleasing, and I especially applaud its straightforward navigation system.

What you don't get at this bargain price is real-time phone or chat access to tax experts (there is, however, email support). TaxAct also has limited ability to import W-2 or 1099 data (although returning users can import their previous year's data). Still, for budget-sensitive filers who don't anticipate a lot of questions and work with the handful of financial institutions and payroll services who do support TaxAct, it's a good deal.

 

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