Tax season is here and, if you're like many people, you probably prefer to do your taxes yourself with the help of tax software. In fact, you probably have a particular product you've used for years, whether that's TurboTax, TaxACT, H&R Block or something else.
However, if you haven't looked at the other options in a while, it might be a good time to do it. Even this year, the major providers have changed up their offerings a bit. Let's take a look at a few tax scenarios and which software could work best.
If your tax needs are very basic, we've got some good news for you this year. Both TaxACT and TurboTax have free options that, in addition to the standard free federal filing, offer free state filing as well. State filing usually costs anywhere from $10 to $35.
This is strictly if you're filing form 1040EZ/A, which means no help for fancy deductions, investments or anything else. They also won't import information from last year's tax returns, although they can pull your W-2 information to save you a bit of time.
Price: Free: $0; Plus: $27; Premium: $37
State tax filing fee: Free: $0; Plus: $33; Premium: $33
The cheapest way to file your taxes, aside from filling out the forms by hand and mailing them, is TaxACT. If your taxes are basic enough (form 1040EZ/A), you can use the Free option that gives you free federal AND free state filing.
Keep in mind, though, that your high school economics teacher was right: There's no such thing as a free lunch. You "pay" for TaxACT with your time. The Free option won't import data from prior years, so you'll be filling out all your information again, although it can import W-2 data.
TaxACT Free calculates your taxes by asking you a series of questions about your income, finances and assets. It won't handle deductions, investments, independent contracting or business. You also only get email support with questions.
If you have more complicated taxes, you'll need to look at higher tiers like Plus or Premium that give you more filing options and free phone support for complicated questions.
Small business and independent contractors: H&R Block
Price (Online file): Free: $0; Deluxe: $35; Premium: $55
State filing fee: Free: $0; Deluxe & Premium: $37
If you're looking for an all-purpose tax solution and you can find your way around a tax worksheet, then H&R Block's online tax tool is a solid bet. It's especially helpful for small businesses.
H&R Block lets you file as a small business after buying the Deluxe Edition. However, if you want extra help categorizing your expenses, then you're going to have to shell out extra for the Premium Edition.
After that, though, you'll find that H&R Block's do-it-yourself tax tool will save you time and money. For example, if you used another online tax tool last year, then you can import all of last year's information directly into H&R Block's system.
Best of all, if you decide that you want to enlist the help of an accountant at any point, you can ask the H&R Block certified experts to help, and even look over your forms.
If you have a working knowledge of your income and tax terminology, or you're willing to do a little extra research, then H&R Block is a great solution.
Guided tour: TurboTax
Price: Free Edition: $0; Deluxe: $40; Premier: $60. Home & Business: $90
Military: Free or $35, $55, $90
State filing fee: $40
There's no better way to learn the math behind your tax return than by doing it yourself. The best step-by-step solution to doing your own taxes for the first time is TurboTax.
If you don't have a massive amount of financial data to report, then TurboTax will tell you that you can skip most of its questionnaire.
If you're in a not-so-regular financial situation, though, hard-to-find information makes TurboTax much harder to use. Most tax first-timers won't have a problem, though.
Warning: Your tax documents hold a gold mine of personal financial information that hackers and identity thieves would love to steal. Be very careful with any extra printed versions of your documents. For extra copies you are not filing under lock and key, be sure to shred them before throwing them out. For safely storing your confidential documents at home, see this fire resistant locking security box.